Exegeting Stop Signs

William M Cox (75533.2001@compuserve.com)
26 Sep 96 09:49:23 EDT

This is just a little something which was sent to me
electronically, which I thought might lighten your day:

Subj: Hermeneutics in everyday life

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 tyrrany 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 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. Incidently,
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

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"
undoubtably 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 unfortunately
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 occured 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.