Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hermeneutics in Everyday Life

I am super excited by the Wednesday Series that begins tomorrow evening (September 3) at Mountaintop.  Dr. Kenneth Mathews, from Beeson Divinity School will be leading us in a 6-week study on how to interpret the Bible.

I am really looking forward to this series on Biblical Hermeneutics and I was reminded of the following that was shared with me years ago when I was in seminary (I can't remember from whom).  It's a little (maybe a lot) on the nerdy side but if you like "seminary humor" you might enjoy this explanation of Hermeneutics in Everyday Life:

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.

A Postmodernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

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.

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.

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.

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

A Preacher might look up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean: something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; or 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.

An Orthodox Jew does one of two things: A. takes another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law; or B. stops at the stop sign, says "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who hast given us Thy commandment to stop," waits three seconds, according to his watch, and then proceeds.

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 Judah 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 mouths 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 . . .

A Pharisee does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of three.  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.

A Scholar from  the 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.

An NT Scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark Street, but there is one on Matthew and Luke Streets.  He 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 Streets 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.

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."

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.

Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT Scholar amends 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.

I PROMISE Dr. Matthew's will make this all much clearer for us beginning tomorrow evening at 6:30in the Sanctuary.

1 comment:

  1. And the Amish said, "No big deal to stop at the sign. I'm only going 3 miles per hour anyway!