The King James Version of the Bible has been Jeopardy!‘s default translation of the Bible when used as sourcing for clues for as long as I can remember, likely dating back to the start of the show in 1984. However, judging by the outcry amongst Biblical scholars this week, this may no longer be a tenable position for the show to take, especially in cases where the KJV flies in the face of established Biblical scholarship.
This came to a head earlier this week in Final Jeopardy! of Game 3 of the Tournament of Champions final. Wednesday’s Final Jeopardy! clue read as follows: “Paul’s letter to them is the New Testament epistle with the most Old Testament quotations”, with the show’s correct response being “What is Hebrews“?
It is clear that per the KJV, Jeopardy! felt that Wednesday’s Final Jeopardy! was without issue and airtight enough to use in a Tournament of Champions final. After all, the KJV does title the book “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews”. It is also clear—due to the fact that it made it through fact-checking—Hebrews contains more Old Testament quotations than any other New Testament epistle, also per the KJV.
Unfortunately, with the number of members of the clergy who have felt it necessary to point out since Wednesday that the show erred terribly with that clue, it is abundantly clear that current Biblical scholarship very much disagrees with the KJV—both on authorship, where most scholars today believe that Paul did not write Hebrews, as well as the extent of which various New Testament books quote the Old Testament—that it has reached a point where the continued usage of the KJV as a source will ultimately do harm to the show’s reputation as a whole.
Am I suggesting that the show stop asking about the Bible? No—the stories contained in the Bible are the basis for such a significant amount of Western culture that it would be impossible for the Bible not to be a subject of categories and clues on the show. However, the current sourcing choice is putting the show under fire from a significant number of subject matter experts here. Do I know enough about the Bible to suggest that any specific translation is better at this point? No—I’m an agnostic layman. But it has certainly become readily apparent to me that the KJV is no longer fit for purpose in a show of Jeopardy!‘s caliber. Biblical scholarship has changed significantly since the show decided 38 years ago to rely upon the KJV as its sole Biblical source, and the show needs to reflect these changes, even if it means walking back from the “English major” vibe the show has always had.
To give a sports analogy, as current Executive Producer Michael Davies wants the show to be seen as more of a sport, this is the sporting equivalent of pointing to an archaic rule as justification for an unpopular decision by the officials—while technically correct, it leads to counter-intuitive rulings that ultimately harms the show’s reputation. Jeopardy! has made several recent changes to its procedures in recent years to stay relevant; in this case, it should consult with Biblical experts and select a new definitive translation for its sourcing going forward.
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