Thursday, November 01, 2007

Year of Living Biblically

This article is from an email I received from Relevant Magazine.
The author of the book featured in this article attempted to live for one year in obedience to every command of the Bible (that was not illegal). The result is the book described below. I found this excerpt article pretty interesting. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Editor’s Note: The article is a portion of the cover story for issue 29 of RELEVANT. To subscribe to RELEVANT, you can go here.

For my book The Year of Living Biblically, I spent 12 months following the rules of the Old Testament. All of them. Hundreds of them. I followed the famous ones, such as the Ten Commandments and ‘Love thy neighbor.’ But I also followed the often-ignored ones, such as don’t wear clothes of mixed fibers, don’t shave your beard and, yes, stone adulterers.

It was an amazing, enlightening and life-changing year. It was a spiritual journey that moved from irreverence to reverence. You see, I grew up in a totally secular home. No religion at all. I’m officially Jewish, but I’m Jewish in the way the Olive Garden is Italian. Which is to say, not very. But in recent years, I decided I needed to see what I was missing. Was I neglecting something crucial to being human, like someone who goes through life without ever hearing Beethoven or falling in love? I dived into the Bible headfirst. And lo, it was awesome. I was surprised by how relevant much of the Bible’s ancient wisdom was to my 21st-century life. I was surprised by how baffled I was by other passages. I was surprised by how a lifelong agnostic like I am could find solace in prayer. I was surprised by how the Bible revealed my flaws and challenged me to be a better person.

Since I’m officially Jewish, I spent most of my year studying and following the Old Testament (though I did devote the last four months to the New Testament). I know that most Christians don’t follow a lot of Old Testament laws. And in fact, neither do Jews. Jews may avoid shellfish, as Leviticus says, but they don’t stone adulterers or sacrifice animals. Those were abandoned after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. But I wanted to try everything. As naive or misguided as it may have been, I wanted to get into the mind and sandals of my ancestors. And I’m glad I did. Because even the rules that seemed bizarre at first glance were thought-provoking and revealed important insights about faith, God and the Bible.


Keep the Sabbath.
I’m a workaholic (I check my emails in the restroom, in the middle of movies, anywhere). But the Sabbath taught me the beauty of an enforced pause in the week. No cell phones, no messages, no thinking about deadlines. It was a bizarre and glorious feeling. As one famous rabbi said, the Sabbath is a “sanctuary in time.”

Give thanks.
The Bible says to thank the Lord before our meals. I did that. But then I got carried away. I gave thanks for everything—for the subway arriving on time, for the comfortable cushions on my couch, for my high-speed DSL connection, etc. It was a strange but great experience. Never have I been so aware of the thousands of little things that go right in our lives.

“Let Your Garments Be Always White” (Ecclesiastes 9:8).
I chose to follow this literally—I wore white pants, a white shirt and a white jacket. This was one of the best things I did all year. I felt lighter, happier, purer. Clothes make the man: You can’t be in a bad mood when you’re dressed like you’re about to play the semifinals at Wimbledon or go to P. Diddy’s party.

Don’t Gossip.
When you try to go on a gossip diet, you realize just how much of our conversations involve negative speech about others. But holding your tongue is like the verbal equivalent of wearing white. I felt cleaner and untainted.

Do Not Curse.
I used to curse a lot. In fact, my computer password was, at one time, a particularly adolescent bodily function. During my year, I tried to scrub up my vocabulary. My new curse words were: Fudge, sugar and shoot. Whenever I said them, my wife would respond by whistling the Andy Griffith theme song. She can mock me, but the weird thing is, I think my G-rated language made me a less angry person. Because here’s the way it works: I’d get to the subway platform just as the downtown train was pulling away, and I’d start to say the F-word. I’d remember to censor myself. So I’d turn it into “Fudge” at the last second. When I heard myself say “Fudge" out loud, it sounded so folksy, so Jimmy Stewart-ish and amusingly dorky, that I couldn’t help but smile. My anger receded. Behavior shaped emotions.


You shall not plant your field with two kinds of seed (Leviticus 19:19).
My attempt at agriculture—some cucumber plants in flowerpots—wasn’t too successful. The cucumbers got to be the size of Good and Plenty candies and mysteriously stopped growing. But, I made sure the seeds were purely cucumber, not mixed.

Do not sacrifice your children to Molech (Leviticus 20:5).
In fact, I didn’t sacrifice my children to any pagan god whatsoever.

You shall not take on your wife’s sister as your second wife.
Well, it does help that my wife doesn’t have a sister.

To see more about AJ Jacobs biblical year and the lessons he learned through Old Testament rules and New Testament principles (including his experience “stoning” an adulterer), check out the latest issue of

Author: AJ Jacobs

AJ Jacobs is the author of The Year of Living Biblically (Simon and Schuster).

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