The Year of Living Biblically, By AJ Jacobs

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The Independent Culture

The Esquire journalist AJ Jacobs, a secular, liberal New York Jew, vows to spend a year living according to every precept laid down in the Bible – the first eight months in accordance with the Old Testament, taking the New Testament on board in the final four. He also travels America and Israel to hear Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, liberal Lutherans, Creationists and Evangelists give explanations of their world-view. Some are reasoned, others as mad as a box of frogs. The result is an engaging, sometimes twee but often comical piece of extended journalism, full of curious lore.

A wife who defends her husband by grabbing the private parts of his aggressor must have her hand cut off; 4,649 instructions must be followed to create a mezuzah; one should praise the Lord on a ten-stringed lyre (available on eBay).

Jacobs's conclusion is that even when religious rules are crazy, following them can be enriching. For my money he's too easy on the irrationality of certain religious beliefs, but without this tolerance his book would lack much of its amiability. He doesn't end up a believer, but his secular liberalism is enlarged by a sense of the sacred.