The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden’s Concordance Unwrote the Bible
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Meet the mastermind behind the concordance of the Bible in a new, revisionist biography.

Anyone who has ever searched for a word on owes a debt to Alexander Cruden (1699–1770). In the 1720s, he decided to compile a concordance of the English Bible. His wasn’t the first, but it was the most sophisticated and remains definitive; it has not gone out of print since its initial publication in 1737. Cruden, a devout Calvinist, catalogued every one of the King James Version’s 777,746 words. He also included explanations of unfamiliar terms, helpfully pointing out, for example, that scorpions are dangerous reptiles “more mischievous to women than men.” He undertook this mammoth task in his spare time, working as a professional proofreader by day. Keay (The Spy Who Never Was, 1991) positions herself as Cruden’s champion and defender against previous biographers, who have typically described him as “confused,” “unhinged,” “a man of diseased mind”: in a word, “insane.” Although Cruden was committed to mental wards at least three times in his life, Keay takes pains to show that he was the victim of ignominious plots and actually quite sane. In her eyes, it was downright liberating when Cruden’s sister had him committed yet again in 1753. This insult, she argues, actually freed Cruden from “his incessant struggle to prove his sanity.” Since absolutely everyone, even his own sis, thought him mad, why bother trying to change public opinion? He “would eventually emerge from this catharsis . . . generous, brave, angry and, if increasingly eccentric, also rather admirable.” Keay’s interpretation is commendably consistent, but she is so hell-bent on asserting Cruden’s sanity that the reader may occasionally wonder if the lady doth protest too much.

Unlikely to start a Cruden craze, but Keay makes an interesting argument.

Pub Date: June 21st, 2005
ISBN: 1-58567-690-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2005