Sunday, June 15, 2008

A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, 2007.

Lesley gave me this book as an ordination present; given the new job, I’m astonished I finished it within a month.

The premise is entirely contained in the book’s title. Jacobs writes in such an engaging manner that the steady stream of vignettes and reflections are riveting, regardless of whether each one is silly or serious. It’s not an academic work of theology, and no student of Biblical interpretation is going to be wildly excited by how Jacobs works through the questions that arise as he tries to ascertain just HOW to follow the Bible as literally as possible. At the same time, the vignettes can function as great conversation starters, allowing those questions to be raised for others. (I know of one rector in the diocese who has used the book successfully for a book study, though she found it more effective with selections of quotations, rather than the entire book.) Jacobs asks good, jargon-free questions about conflicting ways to take the Bible literally, and ultimately is far more concerned with how to read it seriously—his sympathies are far more with people like Marcus Borg than with the innumerable fundamentalists he encounters. What impressed me is that he maintains an unflinching sympathy and equitable portrayal of those with whom he disagrees, though he is clear and forthright about his own reactions.

There are a number of poignant moments in the book, and though I found myself having to concentrate harder in the last third of the year it describes, I was glad to read it. I enjoyed it sufficiently that I’m looking forward to reading his earlier memoir about reading through the Encyclopedia Brittanica (The Know-It-All).