Surely it violates a commandment to have this much fun with the Bible. Despite the risk of being struck by lightning, PW sat down with Jacobs to discuss his weird and wonderful Year of Living Biblically.
How—or rather, why in the world—did you come up with the idea for this book?
I grew up in an incredibly secular home. I'm Jewish in the same way that the Olive Garden is Italian. I had no religion whatsoever. But I'd become increasingly interested in the role of religion in our world, so I decided to dive in head first and try to actually live the Bible as literally as possible. I wanted to follow what the Bible says and get into the minds of the ancients who wrote it. I wanted to figure out what was relevant and good for me, and what was maybe not so relevant.
What surprised you the most?
I guess what surprised me was, first, how relevant some of the rules were, and how much they affected my life. Things about not coveting and gossiping and lying. And then there were the things that were so puzzling to the 21st-century brain, like not wearing clothing with mixed fibers and stoning adulterers. So finding those two types of things, not just in the same book [of the Bible] but often on the same page, was something I had to grapple with all year long.
Who helped you the most in this endeavor?
I had a wonderful spiritual advisory board. Even though I was doing it alone, it was great to have these guides to help me along the way. I was so impressed with them. I was also impressed with the Red Letter Christians, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, who stress the actual words of Jesus and his compassion. I loved this rabbi named Andy Bachman, who was so brilliant and thoughtful. He also stressed the idea of compassion and taught me to read the prophets. The prophets, as he explained, were the Martin Luther Kings of their day, going after justice.
At the beginning of the book, you say you were agnostic. Is that still true?
I don't want to ruin the ending, but it was a life-changing and perspective-changing year. I became what a minister friend of mine calls a “reverent agnostic.” I believe in the idea of sacredness—that rituals can be sacred, and the Sabbath can be sacred, and there's an importance to that.
What's your next book?
I'm waiting for inspiration to strike. If anyone out there has ideas, I'll take 'em! And I'll give you 5 percent.
Can I print that?
Well, maybe not. After my year of living biblically, I can't lie. Maybe I'll give you a free biblical dinner. Some hummus and pita bread. And locusts.