The Bible tells me so

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Looking for a surefire way to draw attention to yourself? Try letting your beard grow to nearly a foot long and dressing completely in white.

That did the trick for author A.J. Jacobs, who spent a year following the rules found in the Bible as literally as possible. Everywhere he went, people stared - until he took a trip to Jerusalem, that is.

Jacobs details his experiment in the book The Year of Living Biblically, which he'll read from on Tuesday as part of the Thurber House's Evenings With Authors series.

The idea, Jacobs said, was to illustrate the hypocrisy of fundamentalists who insist on following the Bible to the letter when it comes to things like condemning homosexuality, but choose to ignore more arcane biblical rules - everything from seemingly innocuous decrees like "let your garments be always white" to more controversial laws, like putting adulterers to death.

So he read through dozens of versions of the holy book and wrote down every rule he came across - more than 700 of them.

What he found hardest to follow were the rules most of us break every day - don't lie, don't gossip, don't covet. The no-gossiping one was particularly difficult for Jacobs, whose day job is writing for the celebrity-obsessed Esquire magazine.

Over the course of 12 months spent saying prayers and tithing his wages, Jacobs had a surprising revelation - he actually found himself enjoying some of his new religious traditions.

"It did change my mind on some of the more seemingly absurd rituals," Jacobs said. "Once you start practicing them, they do start taking on meaning."

He still disagrees with fundamentalists who insist on taking every word in the Bible literally, though.

"The Bible is so full of wisdom and poetry and metaphor, and if you just take it literally, you're missing out on all that. You end up stoning adulterers on street corners," Jacobs said. "Fundamentalism is a bad way to approach the Bible."

Jacobs, who was raised Jewish, started out the experiment as an agnostic but these days calls himself a "reverent agnostic."

"Whether or not there's a God, I believe in the idea of sacredness," Jacobs said. "There are things about religion I have come to respect, like the sense of community, the rituals, the prayers of thanksgiving."

While Jacobs is now clean-shaven and no longer stones adulterers, he does continue to follow a number of the biblical rules. He still observes the Sabbath by trying not to work on Saturdays. And he still tries to avoid gossiping.

"At least I feel guilty now every time I gossip," Jacobs said.