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Review: A. J. Jacobs – The Year of Living Biblically

20140531-220146-79306212.jpgI decided to read this book as a bit of an impulse. When I joined the library, I was looking around to see what kind of books they had, and I took a look at their religious section. This one kind of jumped out at me, it looked like an interesting concept: a guy decides that he’s going to spend an entire year living to the rules in the Bible. I couldn’t help but pick it up and see what it was all about!

Obviously some rules are easier to keep than others: Thou shall not kill for one. But things like not cutting your beard, not sitting in a seat after a woman has done so during her ‘unclean’ time of the month and not wearing clothes of mixed fibres are slightly more difficult to stick to.

As expected, I found the book to be quite funny, but mainly I found it very insightful. During his quest, he decides to talk to as many people as he can, from the neighbourhood Rabbi to the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the extremely evangelical Christian groups of Southern America, it was very interesting to see the many different ways that the Bible can be interpreted, and how people use the same verse to justify wildly different behaviour.

I loved the way that the author fully immersed himself in the journey, tackling the harder parts as well as the easier ones. Starting the year as an agnostic, non-practicing Jew, the culture difference is immediately apparent, especially since he’s having to drag his wife and young son along on the journey with him, and there are many times when you can sense that his wife is shaking her head and wondering what is the point.

By the end of the book, he is changed in ways that he might not have expected, and I think I was too. It’s quite easy to just disregard some of the rules in the Bible as being not applicable to this day and age, and to believe the hype that the Bible forbids homosexuality and other behaviour that is completely normal nowadays, but as A.J. finds out, verses of the Bible can be interpreted in different ways, and a lot of verses are almost certainly not supposed to be followed word-for-word.

I absolutely loved the book, although I found the ending slightly disappointing. We spend nine months of the year on the Old Testament and only three months on the New Testament. Granted, the Old Testament does contain more of the ‘rules’ and guides for life, but I felt that the New Testament section of the book was a little rushed and more like it was tacked on the end. I would have liked this part to be a little more fleshed out, but I can understand that as he was brought up in a Jewish family, the New Testament would not have been as comfortable to follow.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone, Christian or not. It’s an eye-opener, and you might just find yourself learning something and becoming more tolerant of other people.

5/5

 

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