From the New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All comes a fascinating and timely exploration of religion and the Bible. A.J. Jacobs chronicles his hilarious and thoughtful year spent obeying―as literally as possible―the tenets of the Bible.
Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbor. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.
The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history’s most influential book with new eyes.
Jacobs’s quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All. His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations—much to his wife’s chagrin.
Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally. He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish. He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance. And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first-century brain.
Jacobs’s extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges. A book that will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part Cliff Notes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable. Thou shalt not be able to put it down.
Discussion Questions 1. Why does Jacobs embark on his year-long biblical journey? What does he expect to find at its end? How do the questions he seeks to answer evolve as he immerses himself in the project? 2. Identify the formal and informal spiritual guides Jacobs consults during his year of biblical living. Whom do you find most instructive, most challenging to accept, and/or most spiritually compelling? Provide examples for each of your responses. 3. What are Jacobs's primary challenges in living the Bible as literally as possible? How does he attempt to resolve them? Is he successful? Why or why not? 4. Discuss the various religious groups that Jacobs visits during his year. How are they similar and different from each other? What contradictions does Jacobs uncover in their biblical living? What lessons does Jacobs take away from his encounters with these groups? 5. What role does prayer play in Jacobs's year-long journey? How does his relationship with prayer evolve? What meaning does he attach to prayer? Do you agree? Why or why not? 6. What specific issues arise as Jacobs shifts from the Old Testament to the New? What implications do they have for his entire biblical living project? 7. What value does Jacobs attach to the idea of surrendering? Why is surrendering such a challenge for Jacobs? Does Jacobs ever surrender? Why or why not? 8. What does Jacobs's relationship with his neighbor, Nancy in 5I, and the circumstances surrounding her death illuminate about Jacobs's biblical quest? How does this particular situation support or challenge Jacobs's conclusions about the limits of literal interpretations of the Bible? 9. What conclusions does Jacobs draw about the Bible, its literal adherents, and the nature of religious activity as a result of his year of living biblically? What is the value of the experience for Jacobs personally? 10. What is the value of Jacobs's exploration for you personally? What key lessons or insights will you take away from Jacobs's experiences? How has his journey informed your perceptions and understanding of the Bible? Enhancing Your Book Club
Type up the Ten Commandments for your reading group members. Distribute this list to members and challenge them to follow the list and live as Jacobs did for seven days. Book club members may choose to follow one commandment per day or attempt a few simultaneously. Members should keep a journal of their daily experiences. When members meet to discuss the book, ask a few to volunteer to read excerpts from their journals. Discuss the following:
- What were the challenges members encountered as they tried to live biblically? - Were they able to live biblically through the seven days? Why or why not? - What lessons will members take away from this process? - What did they become mindful of as they participated in their seven-day exercise? - Are there specific actions they plan to continue beyond the seven days? What are they and why?
Invite a local religious leader to be a guide for this book club selection.
Your religious guide should be willing to read the book and
help to lead a portion of the book club discussion. Points to consider
during the discussion:
- What were the significant religious themes in the book? Why? - What alternative or additional interpretations exist for some of the views expressed by Jacobs's religious guides? - What does he/she make of Jacobs's conclusions about biblical literalism or the role of the Bible in people's lives? - What recommendations can he/she provide to members who might like to live more biblically? Assemble a biblical feast for book club members using food items listed in the Bible. Popular items include: wine, grapes, pomegranates, figs, cucumbers, olives, chickpeas, and lamb. You may procure goat's milk, the dairy product of choice, at your local specialty grocer or online. Additionally, Jacobs recommends chocolate-covered crickets from http://www.flukerfarms.com. For an extra bit of effort, you may use the recipe below to make Ezekiel Bread for the group (http://www.breadbeckers.com/recipes/ ezekiel_bread.htm) Combine the following whole grains: 2 ½ cups hard red wheat 1 ½ cups spelt or rye (Biblically, spelt was used, Ezekiel 4:9) ½ cup barley (hulled) ¼ cup millet ¼ cup lentils (green preferred) 2 tbsp. Great Northern beans 2 tbsp. red kidney beans 2 tbsp. pinto beans
Stir the above ingredients very well. Grind in flour mill. Measure into large bowl: 4 cups lukewarm water 1 cup honey ½ cup oil
Add to liquids: Freshly milled flour from the above mixture of grains plus 2 tsp. salt 2 tbsp. yeast
Stir or knead until well kneaded, about 10 minutes. This is a batter-type bread and will not form a smooth ball. Pour dough into greased pans. You may use 2 large loaf pans (10x5x3) or 3 medium loaf pans or 2 9x13 brownie pans. Let rise in a warm place for one hour or until the dough is almost to the top of the pan. If it rises too much, it will overflow out of the pan while baking. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes for loaf pans and 35-40 minutes for brownie pans.
If your group is able, you can visit the Creation Museum (http://www.creationmuseum.org/) located in Petersburg, Kentucky. There are special rates and promotions for groups of fifteen or more people.
A.J. Jacobs is the author of Thanks a Thousand, It’s All Relative, Drop Dead Healthy, and the New York Times bestsellers The Know-It-All,The Year of Living Biblically, and My Life as an Experiment. He is a contributor to NPR, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly. He lives in New York City with his wife and kids. Visit him at AJJacobs.com and follow him on Twitter @ajjacobs.