Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not eat eagle. Thou shalt not wear clothes of mixed fibers.
So went the rules by which A.J. Jacobs, a Calhoun College’s Master’s Tea guest on Thursday, led his life for a year. Jacobs, a writer for Esquire magazine and best-selling author, was not acting according to the laws of a new sect, or cult, nor even a personal epiphany he’d had; he spent 365 days following the Bible to the letter.
Jacobs came to talk to students about his two non-fiction books: “Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible,” about his year-long asceticism, and “The-Know-It-All: One Man’s Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World,” in which he documented his experience reading in full all 32 volumes of the 2002 Encyclopedia Britannica edition.
Jacobs, who attended on the condition that Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway give him an oatmeal raisin cookie, spoke about his motivation for undertaking his projects, described what he learned and spouted off some of the facts he learned from the 32,000 pages of Encyclopedic entries he read.
“This whole place was built on embezzlement,” Jacobs said, laughing, while referring to some monetary misdemeanor mentioned in Britannica’s entry on Elihu Yale. “But don’t worry, the Brown guy was much worse.”
Jacobs, who graduated from Brown in TK with a degree in philosophy (“the one with the fewest number of course credits”), said his fascination with first-hand research began one day when he smoked marijuana and wrote a class paper on the anthropology of bongs.
Students in the audience said they appreciated his academic intrepidity.
“That was actually really interesting,” Evin McMullen ’12 said. “He didn’t seem like the pretentious writer I’d sort of expected, at all.”
Even Jacobs’ wife, Julie Schoenberg, referred to herself as “the straight woman to his crazy antics,” describing the beard he grew for a year and the robe and sandals he occasionally wore. Jacobs’s Biblical lifestyle once even included scolding his four-and-a half-year-old son with “a rod” in the form of a Nerf toy. A fight, in which the young Jacobs wielded a Wiffle bat, ensued, Jacobs said.
Jacobs spoke about how his year living a Biblical life gave him new insight into some of the Bible’s religious traditions. He now describes himself as “a reverent agnostic,” he said.
That struck a chord with some students, like Josh Evans ’12, who considers himself to have a title-less faith of “all religions.”
“I like the idea of religious agnosticism, which we can all maybe learn to think about and understand,” Evans said.
“Year of Living Biblically” was released earlier this month.