A year of life under the Old Testament

Today I read an article about Esquire Magazine editor A.J. Jacobs, a self-professed agnostic, who attempted to “obey every rule in the Bible as literally as possible” for an entire year. Not surprisingly, a year later, he’s still a professing agnostic, though he claims to have found a new respect for the Bible, and he has recently made a deal to have his book reworked as a full-length feature film. Who knew that taking the Scriptures seriously could lead to such worldly profit?

Of course, if Mr. Jacobs had consulted the New Testament Scriptures he would not have engaged in this rather futile enterprise. Indeed, the ultra Orthodox Jew who believes in the immutability of the written law of Moses faces a dilemma similar to that of Mr. Jacobs, since he also faces the incongruity of applying the demands of a law code for ancient Israel to modern life.  Mr. Jacob’s, a self-professed Jew, apparently disregards Jesus’ teachings about the universal aspect of spiritual life and the role of love as the essence of the law.

Instead of calling his book experiment “The Year of Living Biblically,” Mr. Jacobs (and his glitzy marketers) should have called it “The Year of Living under the Old Testament.”  The problems he faces are those of someone who attempts to live the Jewish life devoid of faith in Jesus, after all.

Nonetheless, as a convenience to the reader, let me list 20 of the more difficult commandments listed in the Torah of Moses (i.e., the Jewish Scriptures from which Mr. Jacobs sampled):

  • Slavery is permissible, and fathers may sell their daughters (Ex 21:7; Lev. 25:44).
  • You may not contact a woman while she is in her monthly cycle (Lev. 15:19-24).
  • Homosexuals are to be put to death (Lev. 20:13)
  • You must put someone to death for working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2).
  • You cannot leave your homes to work on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:29).
  • You should keep a completely kosher diet (Lev. 11:10).
  • You should not allow anyone with physical blemishes to come before the altar of the LORD (Lev. 21:16-20).
  • You should never plant two types of crops in the same field (Lev. 19:19).
  • You should never wear garments that have two types of fabric (e.g., no cotton/polyester blends) (Deut 22:11).
  • You should publicly execute anyone who curses or blasphemes (Lev. 24:10-20).
  • You must burn to death those who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14).
  • You should put to death a rebellious child (Deut 21:18-22).
  • You must pay for (and marry) a virgin you seduced (Exodus 22:16).
  • You must destroy all places of idolatry in the Land (Deut 7:2, 12:2).
  • You are commanded to burn apostate cities and kill all the inhabitants (Deut 13:15-17) the cherem – including babies and women.
  • You also must kill all magicians, witches or wizards among the people (Deut 18:10)
  • You must hang a blasphemer and an idolater (Deut 21:22).
  • In courts of law, you may not take evidence from a woman (Deut 24:17).
  • You must marry your brother’s wife when your brother dies childless (Deut 25:5).
  • If you take a female prisoner of war and seduce her, she will become a slave with certain rights, and if you later dislike her, you can grant her freedom, but you cannot sell her to another slave owner (Deut. 21:11-15).

Triflers with the Scriptures are people who do not take it seriously enough or bother to work through basic hermeneutical issues. The point here is simple: the law code given to ancient Israel was not, and was never intended to be, an unchanging set of laws that would determine someone’s relationship with God.

So much religious confusion and misunderstanding comes as a result of not knowing how to read in context. After all, I assume Mr. Jacobs did not observe the laws of niddah (menstruation) in his “odyssey,” nor did he “duchen” as a kohen or bring a goat to be offered at the altar of the LORD at his local synagogue. But why not? What’s changed? Aha— even the effort to qualify or amend these commandments of Scripture indicate that there is some sort of “dividing” of thought occurring. You can’t “cherry pick” the commandments based on one set of conditions in order to nullify them in other conditions….

The reason Mr. Jacob’s story is fascinating is because it is a joke…. However, the joke is on him, after all, since the end of the story is not some mindless adherence to a law code or various religious rituals, but a personal encounter with the God who is there and who revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus.

After all, the major differences between most Jews and most Christians centers on the collision between the demands of Moses and Jesus. The letters of the NT expound on the idea that the law code (613 mitzvot, etc) is not applicable since the inner meaning of Torah is now gained through faith in Jesus and his sacrifice. Why did he die if not to save the lawbreakers?

In short, Mr. Jacobs is a propaganda artist, an agent of disinformation and sower of spiritual confusion. The insinuation he makes is that living a Biblical life is quite impossible, but that’s true only if you do not accept the love and grace of God as demonstrated in the message and life of Jesus. His book might therefore be interesting from a comical point of view, but it is sheer claptrap and deception for those who are serious about the issues of life.

More information about A.J. Jacobs can be found at his website here.

6 comments to A year of life under the Old Testament

  • One positive from this – the book/movie might humorously show how it is impossible to abide by the moral law — and therefore help people realize their need for the Savior, Jesus.

  • Bookworm

    I shall have to read this one. Oh, this book is going to pee off more than a few for its irreverance. But, I doubt it will make much of an impact on most Jews that consider themselves religious ; the ultra (chassidic)orthodox notwithstanding who are so few among the whole of Judaism.

    Modern religious Jews do not consider themselves fundimentalists concerning the ancient application of Torah. In fact, they pride themselves on the progression of Judaism into a more relevant way of life for all Jews. Thus the recent decisions in the Conservative movement toward the ordination of Gay clergy. Even many of the Orthodox hold these views.

    Rabbi David Rosen in the book, “The Christian and The Pharisee” (a book I highly recommend by the way) explains modern Judaism’s view toward the ancient practice of sacrifice to his friend Dr. R.T. Kendall…He writes,

    “Indeed, following on from the sage’s affirmation that temple offerings were only of value as an outward manifestation of an internal condition, the medieval Jewish scholars Maimonides and Don Isaac Abrabanel (the latter basing himself on an ancient Midrash on Lev. 17:7) views the whole sacrificial order as only a concession to the form of worship that was common and expected at the time of the Sinai revelation. They taught that the Biblical sanction of the form of religious service was precisely designed to wean the people away from the prevailing primitive methods of idolatrous worship at the time. In keeping with our sages’ teaching on the power of sincere repentance and prayer, these scholars believed that after the destruction of the temple, the sacrificial rites had been replaced by a higher form of divine worship, that of prayer. Bottom line, Rabbinic Judaism does not accept the idea of vicarious sacrifice. We can only atone for our own sins and are responsible for our own actions.”

    So, we see, that modern Judaism by its very nature assumes a position toward the ancient practices of Torah as no longer necessary. Something they accuse the Christians of doing, though Christians do it for different reasons.

    The bookworm—

  • I actually emailed A.J. and he was kind enough to dialog with me a bit about the book. I will post more here after he returns from his book tour and we resume our correspondence.

  • Crispin

    Shalom, chaver

    My colleague actually just gave me a copy of this book!
    I just finished the author’s Introduction and at this point, I am looking forward to reading the rest of it. So far it is well-written and amusing…
    Have a Blessed Hoshannah Rabah and Shmini Atzeret!

    Grace & Peace In Christ
    20 Tishrei, 5768
    October 2, 2007

  • I ordered it from Amazon and it should be hear soon. Maybe we can trade comments about it here. I will be contacting AJ once I’ve finished reading it. too. Todah lekha.

  • Well I finally got the book but haven’t had time to start reading it yet…. Will update this post when I do.

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