After Esquire contributing editor A.J. Jacobs completed The Know-It-All, the story of one man’s quest to learn everything in the world by reading the Encyclopedia from A to Z, he set his sights higher—to the heavens, if you will—when he decided to follow every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible for a year. The results are not just the before and after photos shown here, but a hilarious and reverential account called The Year of Living Biblically.
Writer Daniel Radosh, who just finished his own religious tour of duty with Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture, recently interviewed A.J. for Jewcy.com:
Read the full Q&A and join A.J. at the Y on April 1 for an eye-opening lesson in the wisdom of rabbis, religion in America today, Bible history and the dangers of literal interpretation. Thou shalt not miss it!
You followed the Bible literally for an entire year. If you had to do it again for one month, which month would you choose and why?
Can I make my own month? And choose to do 31 Saturdays in a row? Is that allowed? The Sabbath was one of the most life-altering parts of my year. As a workaholic, the line between weekend and weekday didn’t exist for me. But here was a mandated day of rest and joy, a “sanctuary in time,” as Rabbi Heschel called it. When I first tried Shabbat, I got the shakes, but by the end of the year, I had come to love the ritual.
You came out of your experiment with a deeper sense of transcendence and sacredness in life. Have you been able to maintain that now that you are no longer doing your biblical study and practice?
To some extent, yes. I started the year as an agnostic and I ended the year as what a minister friend of mine calls a ‘reverent agnostic.’ Which is a phrase I love, however oxymoronic it may seem. Whether or not there’s a God, I believe in the idea of sacredness, and that rituals or the Sabbath or prayer can be sacred. I still observe the Sabbath – in the sense that I try not to email or make phone calls or write on Saturdays. I still pray, even though I’m not sure what I’m praying to. And I try to maintain a sense of wonderment, which is something I gained in my biblical year (I also gained it sophomore year of high school after a night with an apple bong, but the feeling from my biblical year was more lasting).