Exegeting Stop Signs
Suppose you're traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you
do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.
1. A postmodernist deconstructs the sign with his bumper, ending forever
the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.
2. Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class
conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south
road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west
3. A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the
stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their
tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn't take
it too seriously, he doesn't feel obligated to take it too
4. An average Catholic doesn't bother to read the sign, but he'll stop if
the car in front of him does.
5. A fundamentalist, allowing the text to interpret itself, stops at the
stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.
6. A suburban preacher looks up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and
discovers that it can mean: 1) something which prevents motion,
such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door
from closing; 2) a location where a train or bus lets off
passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on
this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where
traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off
passengers from your car.
7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things:
1) Take another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he
doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law.
2) Stop at the stop sign, say "Blessed art thou, O Lord our G-d, King
of the Universe, Who Hast Given Us Thy Commandment to Stop,"
wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed.
Incidentally, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage:
R[abbi] Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long.
R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before
proceeding. R. Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy
One, Blessed Be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the
Writings. R. ben Isaac says: Because of the three patriarchs.
R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it
says: "Be still, and know that I am God." R. Hezekiel says: When
Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One,
Blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and
overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign,
and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he
saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his
transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when
he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to
teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One
day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the
sign. Young Hillel called out: "Stop, father!" In this way, he
began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written:
"Out of the mouth of babes." R. ben Jacob says: Where did the
stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: "Forever,
O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens." R. ben Nathan says:
When were stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written:
"Let them serve as signs." R. Yeshuah says: ... [continues for
three more pages]
8. A Karaite does the same thing as an Orthodox Jew, except that he waits
10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with
1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is
activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.
9. A Unitarian concludes that the passage "STOP" undoubtedly was never
uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the
gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in
its parking lot.
10. A divinity professor notices that there is no stop sign on Mark St. but
there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the
ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a
completely hypothetical street called "Q". There is an excellent
300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop
signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and
Luke Street in the scholar's commentary on the passage. There is
an unfortunately omission in the commentary, however; the author
apparently forgot to explain what the text means.
11. A tenured divinity professor points out that there are a number of
stylistic differences between the first and second half of the
passage "STOP". For example, "ST" contains no enclosed areas and
5 line endings, whereas "OP" contains two enclosed areas and only
one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second
part is different from the author for the first part and probably
lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the
second half is itself actually written by two separate authors
because of similar stylistic differences between the "O" and
12. A rival scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit
better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he
neglects to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved
to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the
intersection as though the stop sign were not there.
13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, a later scholar ammends
the text, changing "T" to "H". "SHOP" is much easier to understand
in context than "STOP" because of the multiplicity of stores in the
area. The textual corruption probably occurred because "SHOP" is
so similar to "STOP" on the sign several streets back that it is a
natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be
interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.
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