Exegesis of a Stop Sign

From: John Burgeson (burgythree@hotmail.com)
Date: Sun Feb 23 2003 - 15:10:55 EST

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    You are a Seminary student. Suppose you're travelling 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 (knocks it over with his car),
    ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west

    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 road.

    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 seriously either.

    4. An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or
    Presbyterian or whatever) doesn't bother to read the sign but he'll stop if
    the car in front of him does.

    5. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign
    and waits for it to tell him to go.

    6. A preacher might look up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and discover
    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 God, 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

    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

    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 Pharisee 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 scholar from Jesus seminar 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 NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street 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 unfortunate omission in the commentary, however; the author apparently
    forgot to explain what the text means.

    11. An OT scholar 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 the "P".

    12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign
    would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he
    neglected 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, another OT scholar emends
    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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