2016-06-08

Living the Bible Literally

Writer A.J. Jacobs wasn't sure what to expect when he set off to spend a year living the Bible as literally as possible. As he details in his best-selling book, "The Year of Living Biblically," he soon found himself traipsing through the New York City subway system in white robes and sandals, being a shepherd in Israel, avoiding lustful gazing, exploring creationism at the Creation Museum in Cincinnati, and, as pictured above, growing a beard of biblical proportions.

Get a glimpse of Jacobs's biblical year--and learn something about the Bible's most arcane rules--in this photographic exploration of what it means to live the Bible literally in the modern era. Then join Jacobs in a lively discussion about his book and the Bible.

(Captions written by A.J. Jacobs.)

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Writing on the Doorpost

The words of the Bible were never far from Jacobs's mind--or eyes. Here, he writes scriptural passages on his doorframe, as instructed in Deuteronomy 6:9 ("You shall write them on the doorposts of your house").

Eating Ezekiel Bread

A biblical diet meant avoiding pork and shellfish (as instructed in Leviticus). But it also meant eating Ezekiel bread, the same kind eaten by the Old Testament prophet, made from lentils, millet, spelt and wheat.

Herding Sheep

During his year, Jacobs made several pilgrimages--including one to Israel. Here, he spends a day in the Negev desert herding sheep, following in the sandal-steps of the biblical patriarchs.

Playing the Harp in Times Square

Jacobs strums a ten-string harp--the same kind played by King David. He played it every day, as instructed in Psalm 33:2: "Praise the LORD with the lyre, make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!"

Binding The Commandments

The Bible says to bind commandments "as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes" (Exodus 13:9). Taking that literally, Jacobs--seen here with his wife and son--tied two Xeroxed copies of the Ten Commandments to his body. Later in the year, he also tried the traditional Jewish method of following this commandment, known as wrapping tefillin.

Blowing the Shofar

To mark the start of every month, Jacobs blew the shofar, a trumpet made of a ram's horn. ("Blow a trumpet at the new moon." Psalm 81:3)

Observing the Commandments

Late in the year, Jacobs gets into the biblical mindset by carrying stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Helping the Poor

Much of the year involved an extreme ethical makeover for Jacobs. Here, he donates food to the needy, echoing the charitable offerings of biblical times.

Handling a Pigeon Egg

In an attempt to better understand the Bible, Jacobs embedded himself in various religious communities, from evangelical Christians to the Amish to Hasidic Jews. Here, he participates in a rare Orthodox Jewish ritual involving picking up a pigeon egg in accordance with a biblical rule about birds' nests.

Building a Sukkah

Jacobs built a biblical hut in the living room of his New York apartment--much to the chagrin of his wife. The wood-and-canvas structure was his attempt to follow Leviticus 23:42, which tells us to dwell in huts for seven days at Sukkot, the harvest festival.

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