Excerpt: 'The Year of Living Biblically'

Many of the rules will be good for me and will, I hope, make me a better person by the end of the year. I'm thinking of: No lying. No coveting. No stealing. Love your neighbor. Honor your parents. Dozens of them. I'll be the Gandhi of the Upper West Side.

But plenty of other rules don't seem like they'll make me more righteous at all. Just more strange, more obsessive, more likely to alienate friends and family: Bathe after sex. Don't eat fruit from a tree planted less than five years ago. Pay the wages of a worker every day.

And a good number of the rules aren't just baffling, but federally outlawed. As in: Destroy idols. Kill magicians. Sacrifice oxen.

This is going to be a monster project. I need a plan of attack. I need to make some decisions.

1. Which version of the Bible should I use?

The Bible I pulled from my bookshelf is called the Revised Standard Version, which it turns out is a well-respected translation, an offspring of the famed King James Version from 1611, but stripped of most of the "thee"s and "thou"s.

It's a good start. But it's just one of many, many versions -- an estimated three thousand of them in English alone. One of my goals is to find out what the Bible really says, so I decide I can't rely on any single translation. I want to compare and contrast at least some of those three thousand.

I go to a Bible bookstore in midtown Manhattan. It's a huge Wal-Mart-sized store with fluorescent lighting and a long counter of cash registers at the front. My salesman is named Chris, a soft-spoken guy with the body of an Olympic power lifter. He shows me tables covered with Bibles of all shapes, sizes, and linguistic slants -- from the plain-spoken English of the Good News Bible to the majestic cadence of the Jerusalem Bible.

He points out one Bible I might want. It's designed to look exactly like a Seventeen magazine: An attractive (if long-sleeved) model graces the front, next to cover lines like "What's Your Spiritual IQ?" Open it up and you'll find sidebars such as "Rebecca the Control Freak."

"This one's good if you're on the subway and are too embarrassed to be seen reading the Bible," says Chris. "Because no one will ever know it's a Bible." It's an odd and poignant selling point. You know you're in a secular city when it's considered more acceptable for a grown man to read a teen girl's magazine than the Bible.

I leave the store with two shopping bags packed with Scripture. But my buying spree isn't over. When I get home, I click on Amazon.com and get several Jewish translations of the Bible, and a half-dozen Bible commentaries. To be safe, I order The Bible for Dummies and The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Bible -- anything aimed at those with a sub-80 IQ.

That's not to mention the Bibles sent to me by friends. One gave me the waterproof Outdoor Bible so that I could study the Scripture even during floods and other Old Testament weather patterns. Another sent me a hip-hop version, where the Twenty-third Psalm reads "The Lord is all that." (The more traditional translation is "The Lord is my shepherd.")

In short, I've got the proverbial stack of Bibles, almost waist high.

2. What does it mean to follow the Bible literally?

To follow the Bible literally -- at face value, at its word, according to its plain meaning -- isn't just a daunting proposition. It's a dangerous one.

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