Thursday, April 24, 2008

Living Biblically

The Year of Living Biblically was an entertaining book: AJ Jacobs has a light and humorous writing style, which makes the book zip along.

I felt he managed to look at literalism & the Bible in a generous and surprisingly respectful way, despite the apparent irreverence of the project. He admits himself that he was far more comfortable with the Old Testament portion, being of Jewish descent (although agnostic himself) and it does show. The first 8 months or so spent on the OT are far stronger than the months devoted to the NT.

Some of the time he plays with literalism, doing some rather obvious set-pieces or skits: for example, where he stones a sinner (by dropping a pebble on his foot surreptiously) was laugh-out-loud-funny. At other times, he looks at the more out-there rules of ancient living more seriously and delves into what they could mean, with help from various religious advisors and through reading voraciously. Generally he finds the explanations and the historical context more plausible than he expected.

I felt there were issues and opportunities which he missed or treated more superficially than I'd have liked. His enjoyment of and absorption into the all-male Hasidic Jews' dance and the flicker of awareness when he consoles his wife with the knowledge that at least the women get to watch the dancing through viewing windows, a case in point. His wife seemed to have put up with an awful lot throughout the experience and I was delighted each time she got one over on him, such as while she was "unclean" sitting on every chair in their home so he could not. There were many other apparent inequities, issues and confusions which could have been examined or challenged in the book, but were not really touched upon.

He accepted as a given such things as morality needing to be instilled through religion, (the raising of his son being one of the matters that raised his interest in the project in the first place), which to me is not a given... Of course, it would have been a much larger tome had he attempted all I wanted him to!

In the end, it was a most engaging and amusing book, with some interesting insights. Not perhaps as profound as it could have been, but interesting.

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