Almost Bible?

June 5, 2008

As one who fancies himself an amateur Jeopardy writer, I often find myself watching the show for the writing as much as for the game itself.  Last night, there was a clue asking, in essence, how many books of the Old Testament are named for specific women.  Putting the “Lamentations” wisecracks aside, the response they were going for was 2 — Ruth and Esther.

But wait a minute.  If you use the New American Bible — the translation authorized by the U. S. Council of Catholic Bishops for use in Catholic liturgy — your Table of Contents lists three, Ruth, Esther, and Judith.

So what’s a trivia writer to do?

The hardest part of writing Bible trivia for a large audience is that there is such a diversity of opinion out there as to what constitutes “Bible” and what doesn’t.  Never mind asking what the Bible actually says; trivia nation can’t even agree on which books are in or out, and in some cases whether one book is really two or more.

This conflict undermines one of the foundational principles of trivia writing.  For a trivia question to be “fair game,” there must be a consensus among all players involved as to the facts in question.  Notice that Jeopardy has no problem asking who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, but has never asked who killed JFK.  Anytime there is a lack of consensus, the writer must either specify his source or write something else.

But which source is a broad-based, widely-watched game show like Jeopardy going to pick?  And who decides whether that or any other choice is valid?

Way to go, postmodernity.  You’ve done it again.