Friday, August 28, 2009

Is "Prolegomenon" funny?

While thumbing through an old issue of Jewish Book Annual I came across the following remark given in an article called Old Friends Revisited; A Review of Judaica Reprints1 by Sefton David Temkin2.

Remarking on Ktav's "Library of Biblical Studies" reissues3:
"It has become the common practice to furnish the reprint with an introductory discourse by a contemporary scholar in the same field as the writer of the original. In many of those issued by Ktav this is called the "Prologomenon." We may boggle at these five syllables, but there is no reason to believe that the unknown genius who lighted on it was merely trying to show forth his learning; he had to find a word which had the same meaning as "Foreword," "Introduction," or "Preface" but which, since on or other of them was likely to be present already, was different."
My, my. I'm sure he was trying to be witty, which he was, but naturally he could not have been serious. I think.

I mean, he knew that prologomenon was not a pretentious word invented or found for the project. I think.

Be that as it may, Google returns no less than 766 results for the term before 1900 (not to mention many more with variant spellings, since people seem to have a hard time getting this one right). And almost 2000 results between 1900 and 2009.

1 Jewish Book Annual Vol. 28 (1970), pp. 32-40.

2 I'd never heard of him, but Temkin's bio is given as a staff editor of the Encyclopedia Judaica and a professor of Jewish history at SUNY in Albany. He was apparently also born in Liverpool, active on the Jewish historical scene there and wrote or co-wrote many articles in the original Encyclopedia Judaica (at least 60 of them remain in the 2nd edition). He passed at age 79 in 1998.

His JE articles were on topics as diverse as "Freemasons," "Boston" and "Wolf Heidenheim," as well as articles on numerous founding fathers of American Reform Judaism, such as R. Samson Rafael Hirsch's erstwhile pupil Kaufmann Kohler. (It's interesting to note that his entry on Heidenheim contradicts the faulty entry on Seligmann Baer, which I mentioned here, and correctly says that most of Heidenheim's manuscripts ended up at the Bodleian, rather than having left it to the little jüngele Seligmann Baer.)

3 Edited by Harry Orlinsky. These reprints included works like C.D. Ginsburg's "Introduction to the Masssoretico-Critical, etc.," his translation of Massoreth Ha-massoreth with Ben Hayyim's introduction to the Mikra Gedola, Arnold Ehrlich's Mikra Kephesuto and others, all dusty yet exciting tomes that were doubtlessly quite costly by the 1960s, so Ktav did a bang-up job of reissuing them, with introductions (see post).

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