God Can Use Even a Good, Insane Concordance Maker
- Wednesday, May 18, 2005
There’s a catch to this story that comes later. I hope you read to the end. I think you’ll be encouraged. I was. I read in a recent issue of Books and Culture a review (by Timothy Larsen) of a new biography of Alexander Cruden, the man who single-handedly wrote one of the early concordances to the King James Bible (Alexander the Corrector: The Tormented Genius Who Unwrote the Bible by Julia Keay).
That means he recorded every one of the 777,746 words in the Bible and made a note of every place where it occurs. For example, the word “him” (6,667 occurrences), “her” (1,994 occurrences), “God” (4,444 occurrences), etc.
In the mid-1720s, Alexander Cruden took on a self-imposed task of Herculean proportions, Himalayan tedium, and inhuman meticulousness: he decided to compile the most thorough concordance of the King James Version of the Bible to date. The first edition of Cruden's Concordance was published in 1737. How could he have possibly completed such a project? Every similar undertaking before or since has been the work of a vast team of people—in recent times made incomparably easier by computers. Cruden worked alone in his lodgings, writing the whole thing out by hand. The KJV has 777,746 words, all of which needed to be put in their proper place. Cruden even wrote explanatory entries on many of the words—in effect, including a Bible dictionary as a bonus. The word “Synagogue,” for example, prompted a 4,000-word essay.
Furthermore, Cruden’s day job was as a “Corrector of the Press” (proofreader). He would give hawk-eyed attention to prose all day long. Then he would come home at night, not to rest his eyes and enjoy some relaxation, but rather to read the Bible—stopping at every single word to secure the right sheet from the tens of thousands of pieces of paper all around him and to record accurately the reference in its appropriate place. He had no patron, no publisher, no financial backers: his only commission was a divine one.
Cruden’s Concordance has never been out of print. Some hundred editions have been published, many of which have been reprinted untold times; shoppers at a popular online bookstore today can choose from 18 different in-print versions of Cruden’s.
For this, thousands of lovers of the Bible thank God. They have studied the Bible seriously for almost three hundred years with Cruden’s help. If this is all we knew, we would simply be amazed at his industry and give thanks. But here’s the catch. He was, if not insane, utterly maladjusted.
Cruden was institutionalized for madness four times in his life. His behavior was often bizarre.
On another occasion, Cruden had apparently gone to break up a brawl but ended up spending the best part of an hour admonishing disorderly soldiers not to swear while periodically whacking them on the head with a shovel. He also would propose to women with whom he had established no romantic bond (one such intended he had not even met). Being unable to take no for an answer, he would then turn himself into a persistent nuisance, if not a stalker.
Eventually he decided that God’s call on his life was to reform the morals of Britain. “He therefore started a one-man campaign to have the King name him to a position hitherto unknown in British government, ‘Corrector of the People.’ He then went rambling about the country admonishing strangers to observe the Sabbath.”
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