What happens when you follow the Bible as literally as you can in the modern age? Journalist and author A.J. Jacobs found out when he spent a year taking a spiritual journey, following more than 700 Biblical rules for 52 weeks.
He chronicles the journey in The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. He sat down with Matt this morning to discuss the book and his experience. WATCH VIDEO
A.J. during his Year of Living Biblically...
...and after his return to his regular life.
I had some questions of my own, so A.J. stuck around for a few more minutes. We talked about what his wife withheld from him, why he ate insects and what a person who has to dress in white all the time wears to a black tie event.
Here's our conversation:
Q: Once you had a really good beard going and were wearing sandals and white robes, were you constantly having to explain yourself to people on the street?
A.J. Jacobs: I was. I definitely got some second looks. Occasionally people would cross the street to avoid me. But at the same time, there were people who were very interested in my project. And in some cases, I felt very flattered because some people said they felt more reverent in my presence, and that they didn't want to lie or gossip, which was a nice side benefit.
Q: What were some of the more bizarre reactions you got from people on the street?
A.J.: Well, I got everything from being treated like a D-list celebrity, where people would take photographs of me with their friends to one guy who made an obscene gesture at me. What I did to provoke him, I don't know. In fact, I did nothing to provoke him, I was just wearing my Biblical clothing and my beard. But apparently he did not like it.
Q: Was he maybe making obscene gestures at everyone or did he single you out?
A.J.: He seemed to be singling me out...he clearly was not following the Golden Rule, because I would not make obscene gestures at him.
Q: Was there ever a point where you thought about quitting? That there was too much stress on your life, too much stress on your marriage...
A.J.: Absolutely, all the time. As you say, there was a lot of stress on my life. I had to build a hut in my living room, and my wife wouldn't kiss me for the last two months of my year, because the beard was so voluminous. So it was a huge challenge. I'm glad I made it through.
Q: What about food? How did your diet have to change for this?
A.J.: I did try to do a Biblical, Old Testament sort of diet. No pork, no shellfish. I ate a lot of hummus, I drank goat's milk, because they drank goat's milk back then. I even tried to eat some crickets, because in the Bible, it says specifically that you're supposed to eat crickets. It sounds like a crazy rule, but if you think about it, it actually makes sense, because a plague of locusts comes, wipes out the crops, what do they have left to eat? Crickets, the locusts.
Q: You were supposed to wear white all the time, right?
A.J.: I did wear white all the time.
Q: Say you and your wife are invited to a black tie wedding...what do you wear to an event like that?
A.J.: Well that is a great question, but luckily I never got invited to a black tie wedding (or a white tie wedding). In the Bible, there's a line in Ecclesiastes that says, "Let your garments always be white." So I tried to follow that literally. And I have to say, it was one of the best parts of my experience. Wearing white made you feel lighter and more spiritual. You felt like you couldn't be in a bad mood if you were all white and looking like you were playing tennis.
Q: Getting ready for Wimbledon.
A.J.: Right, exactly.
Q: Is there anything in particular that you miss from that lifestyle, from that year that you maybe can't incorporate into your life now?
A.J.: There's a lot, because there were some amazing rules and amazing experiences. One thing is that weirdly, when the year ended, I felt unanchored. I felt overwhelmed by choice. There were too many options. I had lived a very structured life, and there was something too that. We all talk about freedom of choice in this country. But there's also something to be said for freedom from choice. Should you read a gossip magazine about Cameron Diaz? No. Should you give 10 percent of your money to the needy? Yes. So it provides some structure, which can be very appealing.
Q: Is there any particular thing from the Bible that resonates with you from your day now?
A.J.: Absolutely, there are lots of things. It was definitely a life-changing year. One thing is, as I mentioned on the show, I was saying thanks so often that it became part of my routine. And it's a great thing, because you forget to thank for all the little things that go right in a day instead of focusing on the three or four that go wrong.
And one other thing, I had kind of a perspective change. As one of my spiritual advisors said, you can either look at the world as a series of rights and entitlements or as a series of responsibilities. And the Bible says to look at it as a series of responsibilities, and I love that. It's like the JFK quote. Ask not what your country -- or the world -- can do for you, ask what you can do for the world. It's a great perspective to strive for. I don't always achieve it, but I try.