Between Dialectic and Rhetoric: Rhetorical Questions Expressing Premises in Biblical Prose Argumentation

in Vetus Testamentum
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Rhetorical questions expressing premises are situated at the intersection of two disciplines whose object of study is argumentation: dialectic and rhetoric. This paper examines arguments in biblical prose whose premises take the form of rhetorical questions, utilizing insights from modern dialectical and rhetorical theories of argumentation. The corpus for this study is the prose portions of Genesis-2 Kings. The nearly 130 arguments in the corpus were found to exhibit clear logical structures after undergoing reconstruction, although these structures are not necessarily deductively valid. In this, biblical arguments are typical of argumentation in natural conversation. With a few exceptions, the modes of argumentation can be classified as modus tollens, denying the antecedent, argument by consequences, or inductive reasoning. The rhetorical question plays a significant rhetorical role in these arguments, boosting the persuasive force of a disputed premise or a less-than-compelling logical relation between premises and conclusion.

Between Dialectic and Rhetoric: Rhetorical Questions Expressing Premises in Biblical Prose Argumentation

in Vetus Testamentum



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See e.g. Crenshaw pp. 133-135 Gitay 1981p. 88; Greenstein 2002 p. 452; 2006 p. 245; Johnson p. 99; Kuntz p. 134; Labuschagne p. 23; Whybray p. 20. Some have also remarked on similar uses in prose speeches (e.g. Gitay 2005 pp. 122-123; 2009 pp. 48-49). For additional references on rhetorical questions in biblical poetry see Moshavi 2009 pp. 33-34.


Moshavi 2009pp. 37-39; relevant issues are also discussed in Moshavi 2010 pp. 91-105; Moshavi 2011 pp. 253-273.


For further discussion see Moshavi 2009pp. 41-43.


Moshavi (2014) investigates the strengthening/mitigating effect of the rhetorical question on different levels of communicative function. It is shown there that rhetorical questions as premises consistently strengthen the argument although the fact that a command or assertion is backed up by an argument may have a softening effect on a higher functional level.

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