Can a positive rhetorical question have a positive answer in the bible?

Adina Moshavi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Rhetorical questions (RQs) function pragmatically as assertions whose content is the implied answer to the question. A cross-linguistic trait of the yes-no RQ also observed in the Bible is the reversed polarity of the implied answer: positive RQs imply negative assertions. There is a small group of positive questions in the Bible that resemble RQs, yet the answer to the question is positive rather than negative. Three theories regarding these questions have been suggested: 1) RQs in Biblical Hebrew need not have reversed polarity; 2) the questions express strong affirmations; 3) the questions have the sense of exclamations. In this paper it is argued that none of these theories is convincing. The concept of the conducive, or biased question is introduced to explain the aberrant questions. Nearly all of the questions are shown to be conducive questions with the functions of seeking confirmation or expressing surprise, and as such are expected to have positive rather than negative answers.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)253-273
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Semitic Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Can a positive rhetorical question have a positive answer in the bible?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this