*Warning: This contains what some may view as spoilers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.*
A.J. Jacobs is a brave man. For someone who holds to an agnostic set of beliefs (though raised with Jewish influences), it would seem crazy to take that big leap to living according to the Bible for an entire year, but that is exactly what he does. After reading the whole Bible, Jacobs writes down over 700 laws and rules that he finds in both the Old and New Testament. Preparing to tackle this year, he decides to devote eight months to the Old Testament and the four remaining month to the New Testament, simply because there are more rules found in the Old Testament. As someone who is not as familiar with religion, he enlists a host of counselors and spiritual advisors including priests and rabbis to help guide him. Scheduling regular meetings with these advisors, Jacobs takes on issues from crazy, obscure laws like wearing clothes of mixed fibers to the bigger, yet still difficult rules like no lying and keeping the Sabbath holy. I commend him for his courage to go through with the whole
year. In an age where religion isn’t always appreciated or looked upon favorably, Jacobs braved the streets of NYC dressed in clothing that Moses would approve of and the beard of a younger, darker Santa Claus. He endured strange looks and rude comments, traveled to Israel, and painted animal’s blood on his door frame. In some ways, he was more biblical in one year than many people of religion are in a life time.
As I read this, I felt very convicted at certain points. Here was an agnostic man living a more Christian life than I had ever attempted, and he hardly believed in the rules he was so carefully adhering to! Slightly indignant, I read on thinking that the only way this book could end well was in a miraculous conversion story. As my predictions often go, this was not the case. However, Jacobs did grow on me. He discusses how, although he has not become a Christian, he has changed. Small things such as daily prayer and honesty have become more routine, and he even talks about how he will miss the ritualistic aspects of his days, and he would probably continue with some. He even brings up how some of these changes over the year has influenced his parenting style with his young son, Jasper.
Something that Jacobs does really well is bringing to light many different points of view on religion. He visits many places of worship, some “normal” and some that go as far as handling dangerous snakes. Though I’ve grown up in a Christian home my whole life, I was rarely exposed to anything outside of the Free Methodist Church. My first Catholic mass (talk about being a lost soul!) was in high school for a friend’s confirmation. It is in this aspect that I respect Jacobs. He attacked this “quest” from as many angles possible that a man can in our time. He takes this very spiritual and religious journey in such a scientific way, but were he to take only one stance, it could not be considered objective.
Admittedly there were times I became very frustrated with the book. How can someone go through a year of being so committed to the Bible and still reject it by the end? Multiple religions find their roots in Scripture, yet he still cannot make the jump to believing in it. I had to check myself at those moments of anger, though. For one, I have been raised on Christianity and never knowing a different lifestyle. Jacobs did not grow up in the same home. Secondly, he did not come out of this unchanged. He simply states that he cannot fully commit to and agree with the Bible’s teachings. Were I to do the same type of journey, only following the Koran or some other holy book, I’m not sure I would be able to reject my life’s foundations and convert myself.
Despite some disagreements and the occasional breaks from reading out of frustration, I loved the book. Jacobs has a relatable style and aside from that, he addressed some major issues that most Christians shy away from. It definitely left me feeling convicted and determined to make some changes in my life. I also appreciated the mini-education on denominations and religions other than mine as I have been rather sheltered for my short 19 years of life. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially people of faith. It challenges you and changes you in ways that are a bit unexpected.