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Timothy Larsen


The Orderly Product of a Disordered Mind

A biography of the maker of Cruden's Concordance

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.

The biblical concordance was destined to become a kind of evangelical equivalent to the rosary—an aid to devotion that many could not imagine living without. Cruden's work was praised by members of the élite ranging from the vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford to the Queen. Even more significant, however, are the obscure ministers who wrote to him to express their gratitude. One declared that ...

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