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.
38 Adina Moshavi
means of computer searches, as well as the exegetical uncertainty regarding
some of the cited examples of this phenomenon (34).
Yes-no questions were identified as rhetorical if they serve as implicit
assertions with a polarity opposite to that of the question. Although there is
a group of unanswered yes-no questions in BH with non-reversed polarity,
most of these are probably not RQs, but conducive questions (35). In the
conducive question the speaker has a prior belief or expectation regarding
the answer to the question, e.g., â€œIs that you, Henry?â€ (36) Some conducive
questions do not expect an answer, potentially blurring the distinction
between conducive and rhetorical questions (37). Closer inspection, however,
reveals important difference between the two types. Unlike RQs, conducive
questions do not serve as implicit assertions, nor are their answers
obvious(38). More strikingly, the expected answer to an affirmative
conducive question often does not have reversed polarity; thus the expected
answer to the affirmative â€œIs that you, Henry?â€ is â€œYes.â€
It should be noted that the RQ, as defined here, is clearly distinguished
from the exclamation on semantic and pragmatic grounds, notwithstanding
JoÃ¼on-Muraokaâ€™s (Â§162a) comment that â€œthe line between question and
exclamation is often ill-defined.â€ RQs are semantically questions, defining a
adverb; on this see MOSHAVI, â€œSyntactic Evidenceâ€; A. MOSHAVI, â€œRhetorical Question
or Assertion? The Pragmatics of alh in Biblical Hebrewâ€, JANES 32 (forthcoming).
(34) On unmarked questions, see, e.g., A.B. DAVIDSON, Hebrew Syntax (Edinburgh
1901) Â§121a; GKC Â§150a; H.G. MITCHELL, â€œThe Omission of the Interrogative Particleâ€,
Old Testament and Semitic Studies in Memory of William Rainey Harper (ed. R. HARPER
et al.) (Chicago, IL 1908) 115-129; A. SPERBER, A Historical Grammar of Biblical
Hebrew. A Presentation of Problems with Suggestions to their Solution (Leiden 1966).
The questions listed in the above references contain a fair number of RQs, but only a few
of these express logical arguments, i.e., Exod 8,22; 1 Sam 21,16; 22,7. On ambiguities
involved in some purported examples of unmarked questions, see B. KEDAR, â€œThe
Interpretation of Rhetorical Questionsâ€, â€œShaâ€™arei Talmonâ€. Studies in the Bible,
Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to Shemaryahu Talmon (ed. M. FISHBANE â€“
E. TOV â€“ W.W. FIELDS) (Winona Lake, IN 1992) 146-148 (Hebr. section).
(35) On purportedly rhetorical questions with non-reversed polarity, see, e.g., R.
GORDIS, â€œA Rhetorical Use of Interrogative Sentences in Biblical Hebrewâ€, AJSL 49
(1933) 212-217; KEDAR, â€œInterpretation of Rhetorical Questionsâ€, 149; DE REGT,
â€œDiscourse Implicationsâ€, 60-64. The questions cited in these sources bear no functional
resemblance to the RQ-as-retort (see n. 6, above), which is the only kind of yes-no RQ I
am aware of that has non-reversed polarity. Most of the questions cited, such as the tyarh
â€˜have you seenâ€™ formula (e.g., 1 Sam 10,24) are really conducive. One well-known
example, Jer 31,19, is indeed rhetorical, but may have reversed polarity; see, e.g., VAN
SELMS, â€œMotivated Interrogative Sentences in Biblical Hebrewâ€, 148-159; HELD,
â€œRhetorical Questionsâ€, 79; GREENSTEIN, â€œInterpreting Ancient Textsâ€, 452.
(36) On the distinction between rhetorical and conducive questions see R.A. HUDSON,
â€œThe Meaning of Questionsâ€, Language 51 (1975) 17-18; ILIE, What Else Can I Tell You,
(37) Compare, e.g., the answered question in 1 Sam 26,17 and the identical
unanswered one in 1 Sam 24,16.
(38) In addition, the discourse functions of rhetorical and conducive questions are
distinct. In BH prose dialogue conducive questions are typically used to confirm a belief
of the speaker (e.g., Gen 43,29); to express surprise (e.g., 1 Sam 10,11); to show the
speaker that the hearer knows something to be true (e.g., 1 Kgs 21,19), or to draw
attention to a particular fact (e.g., 1 Sam 10,24). None of these functions are characte-
ristic of Biblical RQs.