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The Year of Living Biblically
September 29, 2007 11:58 AM   Subscribe

"I was able to cut down on my coveting maybe 40 percent, but I was still a coveter." Interview with A.J. Jacobs about his new book, "The Year of Living Biblically," which describes his attempt to following all of the rules in the Bible for a year (he was able to stone an adulterer). "Also, the Bible tells you to build a hut. And since I couldn't get permission to build one on the sidewalks of New York, I built a hut in our apartment."

The book site has an excerpt (with annoying auto-playing sound), overview of the rules, and how to be good.
posted by kirkaracha (54 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I see he also read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica for another book, or experiment, or something. I wonder what this guy's motivation is...does he do this for the book revenue and publicity, or does he really desire to be a "Know-It-All" and to see what it would be like to follow all of the rules in the Bible?

It's somewhat admirable, but without knowing his true reasons for doing it, it's hard to say whether he did it reverently or just to be able to say "Hey, I followed ALL of the rules in the Bible for a year! Top that!"

Good post. May have to check out the book.
posted by DMan at 12:14 PM on September 29, 2007


Didn't Morgan Spurlock already feature this in his movie, "Circumcize Me"?
posted by psmealey at 12:22 PM on September 29, 2007 [11 favorites]


It's somewhat admirable, but without knowing his true reasons for doing it, it's hard to say whether he did it reverently or just to be able to say "Hey, I followed ALL of the rules in the Bible for a year! Top that!"

2 Peter 4:18 - And I say to ye, should a man obey every word of our Lord, but in a manner so as to make Him look like a Dick, this is the gravest of sins.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:29 PM on September 29, 2007 [16 favorites]


I wonder what this guy's motivation is...does he do this for the book revenue and publicity, or does he really desire to be a "Know-It-All" and to see what it would be like to follow all of the rules in the Bible?

He discusses precisely this in the interview in the first link.
posted by scody at 12:31 PM on September 29, 2007


Actually, seeing pictures of this guy with his beard, maybe a more appropriate title would have been "Ostracize Me".
posted by psmealey at 12:33 PM on September 29, 2007


He discusses precisely this in the interview in the first link.

My apologies. I looked through it, but apparently missed that part.
posted by DMan at 12:35 PM on September 29, 2007


I was reading a blog recently (kottke? I can't find the post) where the writer's main thrust was that no matter how much he was a non-believer at the start, he really got used to knowing everything he should be doing at all times and his limits to everything. He said something about how when the year was up, he felt kind of lost since he didn't have this huge structure in his daily life anymore.
posted by mathowie at 12:43 PM on September 29, 2007


East Manny, I think you meant Matthew Chapter 6!
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:43 PM on September 29, 2007


mathowie
"he really got used to knowing everything he should be doing at all times"

Don't you mean shouldn't, or am I missing the point?
posted by Mblue at 12:51 PM on September 29, 2007


I mean should, since the article I read talked about him asking himself "should I do x?" and always knowing the answer.

My point is that even as an atheist, sometimes I wonder what it's like to be a total believer and have everything planned out for you, and it sounds like this author/artist/whatever actually felt pretty good while he was in the thick of it and lost when he was done.

I find that pretty interesting and wonder if there's a way to replicate the kind of comfort and structure without all the wacky beliefs I don't buy.
posted by mathowie at 12:56 PM on September 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


Prison is one answer.
posted by found missing at 1:05 PM on September 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


My point is that even as an atheist, sometimes I wonder what it's like to be a total believer and have everything planned out for you

My personal theory is that it has little to do with whether or not you are a total believer. I think it comes down to personality type. You can be a total believer, like John Calvin or Martin Luther, and just know in your gut that what's been dictated to you is bullshit, controlling nonsense. You can also be agnostic to your core, but not be able to get out of bed in the morning without strict routines and rituals to guide you through your day.

I think some people have a much easier time with a strict set of rules and guidelines whereas others would feel emprisoned by them. I'm not enough of a sociologist to guess which population is larger, but I have an opinion on it, which I'll keep to myself for the moment.
posted by psmealey at 1:06 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the clarification. I understand your point now.
posted by Mblue at 1:06 PM on September 29, 2007


now that his year is up, he can go back to bacon, lobsters and adultery. woo hoo!
posted by bruce at 1:08 PM on September 29, 2007


Lobster bisque, filet mignon tournedos with cream sauce and butt sex with your neighbor's wife. Now that's good livin'!
posted by psmealey at 1:10 PM on September 29, 2007


Lobster bisque, filet mignon tournedos with cream sauce and butt sex with your neighbor's wife. Now that's good livin'!

I recommend only combining two out of three at any one time.
posted by maxwelton at 1:27 PM on September 29, 2007


Well, it's not like the Bible is the Junior Woodchuck's Guidebook - life is complex, and even the strictest fundamentalist who doesn't live in a gated compound picking beans is going to have to face daily situations that aren't comprehensively covered by a two-thousand-year-old rule book. The stock fundy answer is to "pray for guidance", which to an outsider eye may seem oddly similar to "just make a decision".

Some people don't like praying for guidance all the time, and they're the ones that tend to end up with home-schooled kids, 223 blocked-out cable channels, and a ballot picked by that nice man on TV.
posted by ormondsacker at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2007


"No images."

...he's kidding, right? The more I learn about Christianity, the less I like being one.

"If you suspect your wife is cheating, you shall bring her to a priest, who will mix a potion of barley, water, and dust, which the woman shall drink. If she's cheating, her stomach will swell. (Numbers 5:11-20)."

If she's cheating without Pope-unapproved Protection, it ain't the dusty barley water that's making her stomach swell.

"You shall not marry your wife's sister (Leviticus 18:18) It helps that my wife doesn't have a sister."

Hey! That's cheating!

"You shall not trim the corners of your beard (Leviticus 19:27)"

This one would drive me up the flippin' wall.

"You shall smash idols. The ban on idolatry is such a huge part of the Bible, I figured I should try to smash something. I ended up smashing my wife's fake Oscar statuette. But it felt like a hollow gesture, and it annoyed my wife by getting gold flakes all over the rug."

0.o

Thou shalt not kill... but it's okay to smash your wife's things. Sounds like grounds for divorce to me, but that's against the Bible too. What if SHE wanted to divorce him, and she wasn't playing his silly little Bible Game?

"You shall not covet. This is like asking someone not to breathe."

Duh.

In Deuteronomy, God lays down, through Moses, ten simple rules. They're called commandments but really they're more like guidelines. Follow these ten tenets and your life will go a little easier. Simple. Leviticus and Numbers take those ten simple rules and extrapolates them extensively, interpreting them and then utilizing those interpretations as if they too were chiseled in stone tablets by God Himselvis. This is human beings telling us what they think God told them to tell others, and then enforcing them as if they were God. It's simply impossible to pretend to know a god's will without pretending to be one.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:31 PM on September 29, 2007


butt sex with your neighbor's wife

laying with a woman as if you were laying with a man? i'm not sure that's against the rules, unless you are a woman.
posted by geos at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2007


True enough, geos. But the beef with cream sauce? There ain't no need for ya, go straight to hell boys.
posted by psmealey at 1:36 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


PSMeasley: "I think some people have a much easier time with a strict set of rules and guidelines whereas others would feel emprisoned by them. I'm not enough of a sociologist to guess which population is larger, but I have an opinion on it, which I'll keep to myself for the moment."

Please feel free to elaborate, elucidate, and elcarbonate to your heart's content. We're all complete strangers here.

Aliens & Robots. Sums it up pretty well for me. You're either an alien or a robot. Aliens do their own thing on their own terms and no one understands them except occasionally other aliens. Robots do what they're told, or what is expected of them, and rarely look up.

Shallow. Trite. Corny. Pretentious. Disturbingly quaint. Just how I like my blanket assumptions and stereotypical societal processing.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:45 PM on September 29, 2007


I was going to say steers and queers, but the aliens and robots thing thing works for me too.
posted by psmealey at 1:49 PM on September 29, 2007


This is human beings telling us what they think God told them to tell others, and then enforcing them as if they were God. It's simply impossible to pretend to know a god's will without pretending to be one.

ZachsMind nailed it.
If he had really lived out all that weird stuff in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, he'd be a goddamn Taliban. Mind you, he sure started looking like one already.
posted by sour cream at 2:03 PM on September 29, 2007


Metafilter: Lobster Bisque and butt sex.
posted by basicchannel at 2:14 PM on September 29, 2007


he missed one - the one where it says to do your good deeds privately instead of publicly

gotcha!
posted by pyramid termite at 2:22 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, this really makes my plan to live by the Book of Mormon for a whole week look kinda skimpy.
posted by goatdog at 2:24 PM on September 29, 2007


His inability to find a way to build a hut outside in New York shows lack of effort. Lots of people can and do.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2007


Metafilter: Lobster Bisque and butt sex.

Where's the beef?
posted by doctor_negative at 2:41 PM on September 29, 2007


Where's the beef?

which part of butt sex didn't you understand?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


I spent a year back in college trying to follow the tenets of this book to the letter. I didn't think to write a book out my adventures and make a whole lot of money. This is strange, cuz that's one of the requirements of that particular book.

I guess there is no try.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:45 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


If you're going to completely throw out the idea of the Bible as a historical document and somehow see it as something completely devoid of either genre or direct address to third parties, you will find it impossible to keep all of the instructions it contains, let alone keep track of them.
posted by honest knave at 2:46 PM on September 29, 2007


If following all the rules in the Bible in't your thing, other authors have taken the time to write additional books to part you from your money.

Maybe I'll take a year to read them all.
posted by nax at 2:50 PM on September 29, 2007


Regarding the hut, I was looking for an excuse to post this. I passed one on the street today and couldn't believe there was a company that actually did this. Popupsukkah.com!!! Who knew?
posted by Maias at 2:59 PM on September 29, 2007


After reading Joe Queenan's review of Jacobs' last book, I hope Queenan does this one too.
posted by lukemeister at 3:09 PM on September 29, 2007


I too have dedicated my life to living as my bible tells me to.

Go forth unto the land, and make ready your self by being at condition one. And make certain that only jacketed hollow points are favored, for not being clad in copper is unclean and therefore most foul.


-- Book of Browning 19:11
posted by quin at 3:46 PM on September 29, 2007


Quin you have a weird religion that you follow.

*puts on his Dobbs T-shirt and sets a nearby sofa on fire*
posted by ZachsMind at 4:11 PM on September 29, 2007


Not so much, ZM. I remember back when I was a neophyte studying the Apocryphon, and I asked when the Glorious X-Day would come and eliminate the pinks. I was told not to ask such questions as the New World Order were probably listening and could strike at any time. (That's back when the Illuminati and the Church were still at odds with one another.)

It was then that I realized that in order to make ready our world for the coming cleansing, that I must follow a new path. The Way of the Gun. (Praise be to Samuel!)
posted by quin at 4:23 PM on September 29, 2007


I spent the year I was eight trying to follow the tenets of this book to the letter.

Seems as sensible as this guy.
posted by bonecrusher at 4:35 PM on September 29, 2007


The whole POINT of the O.T. law is that no man can keep it.


Except One.


Who then promptly inaugurated the new covenant. Which is good on lots of levels.

Especially if one likes shrimp.
posted by konolia at 4:39 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wow, konolia, what a great excuse for not following the rules laid out in your holy books. Thumbs up!
posted by Hildegarde at 4:51 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm waiting for the porn version, The Year of Knowing Biblically.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:01 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


laying with a woman as if you were laying with a man?

That's a paddlin'.

His inability to find a way to build a hut outside in New York shows lack of effort.

Yeah, what's up with that? If all those homeless people can manage it down under the Manhattan Bridge, how come this guy can't do it? I mean shit, you could *buy* someone's piece of prime Manhattan real estate for a couple of crack rocks -- though this was before the housing bubble blew up. It'd probably cost you a couple of jumbo vials and a couple of bags of dope today, but what the hell. It's Manhattan. The island isn't gonna get any bigger. In ten years time, that shack in a homeless shanty town may well provide the basis for a comfortable retirement pension.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:30 PM on September 29, 2007


I find that pretty interesting and wonder if there's a way to replicate the kind of comfort and structure without all the wacky beliefs I don't buy.

sure: golden rule and buy local. no hokey beliefs necessary. or try peace is every step.
posted by DarkForest at 6:14 PM on September 29, 2007


butt sex with your wife: We can ask ourselves, "Is anal sex going to benefit me, my spouse and our relationship with God, or will it harm or hinder us?" If it is going to harm or hinder in any way, then we would be wise not to practice it.

i can't seem to get past this issue.
posted by geos at 6:23 PM on September 29, 2007


I'd rather follow what a budgie told me.
posted by tellurian at 7:53 PM on September 29, 2007


Aliens & Robots. Sums it up pretty well for me.

please, no pseudo-Heroes psychology (the show is fine) ... there are more than two kinds of people; there are infinite types of people.

Barry Bonds - alien or robot?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:57 PM on September 29, 2007


They're called commandments but really they're more like guidelines.

Sounds like something Captain Barbossa would say.
posted by bwg at 2:07 AM on September 30, 2007


...This is human beings telling us what they think God told them to tell others, and then enforcing them as if they were God. It's simply impossible to pretend to know a god's will without pretending to be one.

Is no one going to contest this? It's not an accurate statement about the setting forth of law in the Old Testament. (There is no substitute for actually reading those books - one of the most eye-opening experiences a person who wants to make any critique of Christianity can have).

The rituals and practices laid out in the first five books are not presented as "interpretations" from men, they're presented as divine requirements revealed in direct communication with the prophet Moses. Some of the laws immediately follow the first iteration of the Commandments, in Exodus, as part of the same communication.

I'm not sure what logic lets one read the Commandments as God's "real" instructions while the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are the embroideries of man. God revealed them all directly to Moses, so to make distinctions between them, you either have to refuse to see Moses as a true prophet and suggest he made some or all of it up (in which case you wouldn't need to recognize the 10 commandments either), or, if you accept Moses as a prophet, then you'd have to treat all the laws as divine requirements.

The difference between the Ten Commandments, according to God, and the other laws is that breaking the Ten Commandments would result in the punishment of his destroying the Hebrews. The whole basis of the Old Testament is that God is designating the tribes of Israel as his people, extending them special protection; to remove that protection would result in the end of the religion of Abraham. Breaking the other rules, though, was to result only in earthly punishment and blots upon the soul. The laws detail how theivery, cheating, failure to perform rituals properly, and so on, are to be punished by other people; but God's setting the rules.

There is a Biblical problem with Jesus and the New Covenant. Certainly most modern-day Christians read the New Covenant to mean that the old law has been superseded. But that's not what Jesus himself said. In Matthew 5:17, he famously says "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill." He then mentions some of the commandments and indicates that he means not to retire them but to expand expand them. For instance, he says that thinking about adultery will be considered the same as committing adultery, and thinking about murder the same as committing it. This replacement of the detail of the law with a higher standard which focuses more on inner life and intent than on outward behavior and ritual is the crucial difference between OT and NT thinking. From the letter of the law to the spirit of the law, as it were; only the spirit was supposed to be more difficult to adhere to.

But you couldn't see Jesus was observing Pentateuch law perfectly in his lifetime until he declared it over with. He didn't. As with all religions, traditions and behaviors change and erode. Jesus wasn't living in the world of Moses, and his contemporaries didn't follow the law as written, ethier.
posted by Miko at 6:47 AM on September 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


Well, I don't know that I'd follow a parakeet's advice on religion. Well, unless it had a nice British accent. Amazing how much more palatable unpleasant things can become when said with a nice British accent.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:06 AM on September 30, 2007


I'm not sure what he was trying to prove really. The Old Testament laws are Judeism. The New Testament IE Christianity is a covenant of GRACE. Why would you even try to go backwards??
posted by Tablecrumbs at 8:23 AM on September 30, 2007


Ask the not-especially-graceful Christians in the United States that want to selectively enforce those Old Testament rules as American laws. Funny, I don't see a lot of them wearing all white, not shaving their beards, and building huts in their living rooms.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:14 AM on September 30, 2007


Miko: "There is a Biblical problem with Jesus and the New Covenant..."

Thank you for sharing your opinion, Miko. Please allow this to warm the cockles of your heart. Your description that J.C.'s intent was not to make it easier to follow God's Will but even more difficult? Just pushed me further away. Thanks. At this rate I may get to deny God three times before the cock crows.

Looking forward to that, actually. In fact perhaps I should spend a year pretending to be an atheist. See if I can make a book out of it.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:12 PM on September 30, 2007


The rituals and practices laid out in the first five books are not presented as "interpretations" from men, they're presented as divine requirements revealed in direct communication with the prophet Moses.

That they are presented as such does not manufacture a god, nor does it make them anything other than the claims of men about its will.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:01 PM on September 30, 2007


Please allow this to warm the cockles of your heart.

Huh? Why do you say that? Do you think I'm a Christian proselytizing at you? On what statement of mine did you project that? I'm not. My knowledge of the Bible comes from scholarship. So maybe you'd like to base your reaction on something other than whether you think anyone is trying to get you or "push you away."
posted by Miko at 7:10 PM on September 30, 2007


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