Adina Moshavi, «Two Types of Argumentation Involving Rhetorical Questions in Biblical Hebrew Dialogue», Vol. 90 (2009) 32-46
Rhetorical questions (henceforth RQs) often express a premise in a logical argument. Although the use of RQs in arguments has been widely noted, the modes of reasoning underlying the arguments have not received sufficient attention. The present study investigates argumentative RQs in the prose dialogue in Genesis through Kings in the light of pragmatic argumentation theory. Two logical forms, modus tollens and denying the antecedent, are identified as accounting for the majority of arguments expressed by RQs. The first type is generally intended to deductively establish its conclusion, while the second, formally invalid form is used presumptively to challenge the addressee to justify his position. There is also a presumptive variety of the modus tollens argument, which is based on a subjective premise. Both modus tollens and denying the antecedent have similar linguistic representations and can be effective means of refusing directives.
Two Types of Argumentation Involving Rhetorical Questions 35
what an aggrieved party did to deserve shabby treatmentâ€, as in Gen 31,36
yrja tqld yk ytafj hm y[Ã§p hm â€œWhat is my crime, what is my guilt that you
have pursued me?â€ (18)
In a second structure involving argumentative RQs, the conclusion is
expressed by a â€œwhyâ€ RQ. In the â€œtriple rhetorical questionâ€ formula a
double yes-no question expressing the premise is accompanied by a â€œwhyâ€
RQ expressing the conclusion, e.g., Jer 2,14 [wdm awh tyb dyly Î¼a larÃ§y db[h
zbl hyh â€œIs Israel a bondman? Is he a home-born slave? Why is he given over
to plunder?â€ (19) This formula is said to be restricted to poetry and elevated
prose, and is particularly characteristic of Jeremiah. There is a striking
similarity in meaning between the triple rhetorical question and the yes-no
question followed by a yk clause. In a few cases a double yes-no RQ is
followed by yk rather than a â€œwhyâ€ question (e.g., Job 7,12; Jer 31,19) (20).
Much less attention has been paid to the logical structure underlying
arguments with RQs. Two scholars who do address the issue are van Selms
and Herzog (the latter cited by Greenstein.) According to van Selms many
motivated interrogative sentences can be understood as a sort of reductio ad
absurdum argument against the proposition expressed by the yk clause (21). A
typical example is 1 Sam 17,43 twlqmb yla ab hta yk ykna blkh â€œAm I a dog,
that you come at me with sticks?â€ Van Selms explains the argument as
follows: â€œFrom the fact that David approached Goliath with his shepherdâ€™s
equipment it would almost have followed that Goliath was a dog. But he is
not, and so David should not have come to him with sticksâ€ (22). Van Selms
notes that such an analysis can be applied to some triple rhetorical questions
as well (23). Van Selmsâ€™ view is discussed further in section 5, below.
Greenstein, citing Herzog, states that triple rhetorical questions often
involve a syllogistic-like argument, in which one of the premises is
implicit(24). As I will show in the sections below, recognizing the implicit
(18) STEINER, â€œMah Nishtannahâ€, 16-17 shows that Biblical ...yk...hm later gives rise to
Tannaitic â€¦Ã§...hntÃ§n hm, and points to â€¦Ã§...hm in Cant 5,9 as the possible â€œdirect
ancestorâ€ of the Tannaitic formula.
(19) On the triple rhetorical question and its Ugaritic parallels, see, e.g., Y. AVISHUR,
â€œDouble and Triple Question Patterns in the Bible and Ugariticâ€, Zer Liâ€™gevurot. The
Zalman Shazar Jubilee Volume. A Collection of Studies in Bible, Eretz Yisrael, Hebrew
Language and Talmudic Literature (ed. B.Z. LURIA) (Jerusalem 1973) 421-464 (Hebr.);
BRUEGGEMANN, â€œJeremiahâ€, 358-374; H.L. GINSBERG, â€œThe Legend of King Keret: A
Canaanite Epic of the Bronze Ageâ€, BASOR.S 2-3 (1946) 35; M. HELD, â€œRhetorical
Questions in Ugaritic and Biblical Hebrew, Eretz Israel 9 (1969) 71-79; A.D. SINGER,
â€œOn a Certain Type of Interrogative Sentence in Biblical Hebrewâ€, World Congress of
Jewish Studies Summer 1947 (Jerusalem 1952) I, 109-112 (Hebr.)
(20) Held suggests that yk can have the same meaning as [wdm (HELD, â€œRhetorical
Questionsâ€, 79), while van Selms views the â€œwhyâ€ question simply as a different form of
a motivating clause (â€œMotivated Interrogative Sentences in the Book of Jobâ€, 29.) On this
point see also A. AEJMELAEUS, â€œFunction and Interpretation of yk in Biblical Hebrewâ€,
JBL 105 (1986) 201.
(21) VAN SELMS, â€œMotivated Interrogative Sentences in Biblical Hebrewâ€; VAN
SELMS, â€œMotivated Interrogative Sentences in the Book of Job.â€
(22) VAN SELMS, â€œMotivated Interrogative Sentences in Biblical Hebrewâ€, 145.
(23) VAN SELMS, â€œMotivated Interrogative Sentences in the Book of Jobâ€, 29.
(24) E. GREENSTEIN, â€œSome Developments in the Study of Language and Some
Implications for Interpreting Ancient Texts and Culturesâ€, Semitic Linguistics. The State
of the Art at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (ed. S. IZREâ€™EL) (Israel Oriental Studies