A. J. Jacobs, who describes himself as "Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is Italian," compiled all the laws of the Bible and tried to obey them for a year (with notable exceptions, including Jesus' commands to "repent and believe" and "go and make disciples of all nations.") The product is The Year of Living Biblically, a sort of journal of Jacobs' experiences in trying to obey and meeting religious groups who base their morality on the Bible. He spoke with CT about his new perspective on the Bible and religion.
What got you started on this project?
I became interested in religion, fascinated by it, especially because I have a young son and wanted to know what to teach him about religion. And I was worried that I was I missing something by not having religion, like a person who went through life without ever falling in love or hearing Beethoven.
I decided to dive in headfirst and try to live by the Bible for a year and see what I could take out of it, what enhanced my life, and what was not as relevant to my life.
Had you read the Bible before this?
Some pieces, but certainly not Genesis to Revelation, which is what I did.
How did you compile all these laws?
First I bought myself a whole stack of Bibles: Christian Bibles, Hebrew Bibles, the King James, the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version. A friend of mine sent me the Hip-Hop Bible where Psalm 23 is rendered, "The Lord is all that" instead of the traditional "The Lord is my Shepherd." I read through all the Bibles and wrote down every piece of advice, every rule, every guideline that I could find. And it stretched 72 pages, over 700 rules.
What do you think the point of all these laws is?
It's a structure. In many cases, the laws made me a better person. ...