i bought this book, well after the buzz about it had subsided, because i’d heard such good things about it. and i was not disappointed. it was one of the more fun and thought-provoking non-fiction works i’ve read this year.
the author is a self-described secular jew, and has lived his whole life in new york. he’s an editor at esquire magazine. and, previously, he published a best-selling book about read the entire britannica encyclopedia, called The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (which i just ordered for my kindle). while reading through the encyclopedia, all the post about judaism and christianity caught his attention, and he thought it might be interesting to try a little experiment: live an entire year – as the subtitle says — with as literal an interpretation of the bible as possible.
jacobs spends 8 months of his year trying to live by the entire old testament, and his final 4 months trying to live a literal new testament interpretation.
of course, one person’s literal interpretation is another person’s heresy (or, at least, wackiness). so jacobs spends a good deal of real estate sifting through which literal interpretation to try to live by. the results are almost always interesting, often insightful, and occasionally hilarious.
here’s the thing that really surprised me: i expected this to be a book that would make me wince. it did — but for different reasons than i expected. i expected to wince as he mocked christians and observant jews. but jacobs turns out to be beautifully gracious. in a sense, that’s what caused me to wince! here was a non-believer, seriously trying to live “our way” (well, some of it is “our way”), and treating the entire thing with much more respect and grace and serious inquiry and thoughtful mind, heart and soul pursuit than a major slice of those who actually call themselves christians! ouch!
we also get a glimpse into jacobs’ own spiritual journey, as he genuinely tries to be open to the potential reality of god and the jewish/christian story of reality. and there is some movement, which he rejoices in and expounds on.
no, there’s no big conversion story at the end. but it’s a great romp through both the follies of literalism, the challenge of scripture, and the sometimes-positive implications of the book of God.
incidentally, i just noticed last week that jacobs is doing a seminar on this book at the national pastors convention in san diego, next february. i might have to try to check that one out!