Last week, I saw on Google that Johnny Galecki (Big Bang Theory) was producing a new sitcom called Living Biblically, based on the book The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. I had read the book several years ago, just after it came out, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. So I went ahead and read it again. I also watched the pilot episode of the sitcom. It wasn't brilliant, but I enjoyed it (despite the fact that critics seem to have panned it). The book, on the other hand, was just as good on the second reading as it was on the first. Here are some of my thoughts...
Jacobs spends an entire year (plus a couple weeks) trying to live his life according to a pretty literal reading of all of the Bible's commands. He spends about 2/3 of the time focusing on the Old Testament, and the remaining 1/3 following the New Testament. During this time, he grows an epic beard, visits Israel, refuses to sit anywhere that may have been touched by a menstruating woman (including his own wife), etc. This might seem like an irreverent sort of experiment. On the contrary, he seems to approach the task with great reverence, despite his secular, agnostic worldview. And even though he admittedly fails much of the time to truly "live biblically," he emerges from the experience a changed man. Does he become a believer in Judaism or Christianity? No. But he does develop a deep appreciation for the sacred.
There is much to enjoy in Jacobs' memoir of his experience. Possibly the funniest story he tells is when he informs his wife that he can't sit anywhere she's sat during her period. When he returns home that day, she gleefully informs him that she has sat on every single surface in the house, except for their toddler's play bench! He ends up purchasing a portable stool that he can carry around, thus ensuring his ability to stay pure in that regard. He even ends up "stoning an adulterer," which basically means he chucks a pebble at a cranky old man who almost decks him.
As I read the book this time through, as much as I enjoyed the experience, I wondered how a deeply religious (or deeply irreligious) person would view Jacobs' journey. After all, he doesn't end up having any sort of Christian "salvation experience," or rediscovering the Judaism of his family's heritage. At the same time, he doesn't decide the whole religion thing is not worth believing, either. He's quite honest that he still remains an agnostic, although he indicates that he has become a "reverent agnostic." Disappointing to some, I imagine, who would expect such a lengthy encounter with the word of God to have a more tangible effect. But I admire his forthcoming attitude, and the fact that he devotes so much attention to the innumerable little changes that occur inside him during his "biblical year."
Oh, and if you're interested in the sitcom that was based on the book, here's a little promo video for the show...
P.S. I thought it was interesting that the sitcom writers changed the main character from a nominally Jewish agnostic to a lapsed Catholic agnostic. Did they think that more viewers would identify with the latter?
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)