Going through the motions
In his latest book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, A.J. Jacobs takes a year to read and study the Bible while attempting to make sense of and follow the rules in the book. The result is less satisfying than 2004's The Know-It-All, a chronicle of his quest to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in one year, but the book is entertaining and educational for those who have wondered about the stranger side of the Bible.
Jacobs guides readers through some of the more puzzling (and, today, often ignored) parts of scripture, such as those that say a man can't touch a menstruating woman or those requiring animal sacrifice and circumcision. Biblical field trips to Jerusalem, an Amish farm in Pennsylvania and Jerry Falwell's immense church in Lynchburg, Virginia, bring context to his journey as Jacobs struggles to learn what it means to lead a biblical and spiritual life.
Jacobs has described himself as being Jewish in the same way that the Olive Garden is Italian, so this quest to follow the Bible while not believing in God often seems contrived. When he stops shaving and starts wearing tassels on his clothes, it feels like he's just going through the motions. Even as he tries to understand why these rules were written, it comes off as though he thinks the Bible is simply a rulebook that should be followed mindlessly and to the letter.
Of course this is meant to show the folly of fundamentalists who say everything in the Bible must be interpreted literally and yet don't stone adulterers or avoid clothing made of mixed fibers. It also provides some understanding for Christians, Jews and others about parts of the Bible that most people question.
While there are some moments of grace here times when Jacobs feels more connected to his fellow man, sees the beauty in Ecclesiastes or is comforted by the power of prayer this is not a conversion story. In the end, Jacobs isn't any more religious, but he is changed by his journey.