A.J. Jacobs was an agnostic before undertaking a yearlong journey to obey every rule in the Bible as literally as possible. A year later, he's still an agnostic, but a more reverent one and a lot more thankful.
Jacobs, an editor-at-large for Esquire, the popular men's magazine, describes himself as "Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant," according to Minneapolis' Star Tribune. He was raised in a secular family but had been thinking about religion for a long time and was interested in the relevance of faith in the modern world.
So he decided to take the extraordinary journey of following all the rules in the Bible – everything from the well-known mandate of loving thy neighbor to the Old Testament rule of not trimming a beard. Jacobs carried around a stapled list of the more than 700 rules and prohibitions identified in the Bible throughout an entire year.
His experience is written in the upcoming book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, which releases on Oct. 9.
Throughout the journey, Jacobs wore a lot of white clothes, following a rule in the book of Ecclesiastes that says let your garments always be white. He also learned to focus on "the hundred little things that go right in a day, instead of the three or four things that go wrong," said Jacobs in an interview with Newsweek.
"There's a lot about gratefulness in the Bible, and I would say I'm more thankful."
The two most difficult rules to follow were "the sins we commit every day like lying, gossiping and coveting," he said, and rules that were hard to play out in modern life such as stoning adulterers.
Although he tried to live as much of a sin-free life as possible, he acknowledged that he still sinned.
"I was able to cut down on my coveting maybe 40 percent, but I was still a coveter," he said, noting that he lives in New York where there's a lot of coveting.
"I miss my sin-free life," he told Newsweek after the end of the experience, "but I guess I was never sin free."
By the end, he found his journey to be a surprising and perspective-changing year.
"I was taken aback by how relevant many of the Bible's rules are to modern life," he said in Esquire magazine. "I was also surprised at how much practical information the Bible contains. I expected the wisdom and spirituality; I didn't expect the helpful household hints."
Jacobs also found something "attractive" about biblical living.
"Religion provides structure, mooring, anchoring. Should you covet? No. Should you give 10 percent to the needy? Yes. It really structures your life. After my year I felt unmoored, overwhelmed by choice," he said.
When Jacobs first entered the experiment, he clarified that he did not go in to mock religion but more because he was really curious. He consulted with religious figures to help him on his quest and for the most part, they were not offended by Jacobs' project nor saw it as a gimmick.
"It was much more a journey to understand," he said in the interview.
"There are parts of the book where I take the Bible literally and show that that is not a good way to read the Bible," he continued. "There are people in America who do read it that way, and I think that is a mistake. So there is that aspect to the book, but at the same time it is an earnest spiritual quest where I'm trying to figure out if something's missing in my life and what I should tell my kids about religion."
The Year of Living Biblically has been picked up by Paramount Pictures and Plan B Entertainment for a feature adaptation. The upcoming book release follows Jacobs' The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Be the Smartest Person in the World, in which he spent a year reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z. He indicated that following the Bible proved to be much more challenging.