Forbidden freethinker’s dictionary published again after 300 years


On 27 July 1668 lawyer, doctor and libertarian wunderkind Adriaan Koerbagh was convicted for heresy. His crime? Writing and publishing a dictionary* two years earlier.

Koerbagh was a religious man, but he held no truck with (too much) superstition. A thing that irritated him was the use of foreign (Greek or Latin) words in the Bible to obfuscate their often simple meanings. In his dictionary he pointed out that ‘angel’ merely meant ‘messenger’, that ‘devil’ meant ‘slanderer’ (“the devil was invented by theologians**”) and that Jesus Christ ought to be called Jesus the Anointed. He felt that theologians, lawyers and doctors used foreign words on purpose to keep the common man from seeing through their dogmas.

According to Pim den Boer, Koerbagh was the first Dutchman to publicly denounce miracles: “Theologians claim that a miracle is something that stands above nature or goes against it, but that is not true, because nothing can be above nature or go against it.”

In 1993 lexicographer Ewout Sanders published an anthology of Koerbagh’s dictionary, but now has published the whole thing. It is not clear to me if the book is still forbidden.

About the Bible Koerbagh wrote: “If the word would no longer be protected by fire and sword, it would deteriorate in no time.” The author would feel the force of that fire and sword. Two years after his conviction he died in prison at the age of 37.

*) Titled A Flower Garden Full of Loveliness Without Sadness.

**) I should point out that the common Dutch word for theologian, theoloog, is also derived from Greek. Koerbagh of course uses the Germanic form godsgeleerde.

(Link: Marc van Oostendorp)


  1. Jan says:

    No need to publish this comment, but theos and logos are both greek (meaning god and word respectively). The Theoloog is he who studies god.


  2. Branko Collin says:

    You are of course absolutely right. Thanks! I corrected my posting.

  3. Jan says:

    …and by the way: I really enjoy reading 24 Oranges (and I am not even dutch nor do I live in the Netherlands). Thanks for the good work and keep it up!

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