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Generational Curses in the Pentateuch

An American and Maasai Intercultural Analysis

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Beth E. Elness-Hanson

Although the demographics of World Christianity demonstrate a population shift to the Global South, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the preponderance of biblical scholarship continues to be dominated by Western scholars in pursuit of their contextual questions that are influenced by an Enlightenment-oriented worldview. Unfortunately, nascent methodologies used to bridge this chasm often continue to marginalize indigenous voices. In contradistinction, Beth E. Elness-Hanson’s research challenges biblical scholars to engage stronger methods for dialogue with global voices, as well as encourages Majority World scholars to share their perspectives with the West.

Elness-Hanson’s fundamental question is: How do we more fully understand the “generational curses” in the Pentateuch? The phrase, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation,” appears four times in the Pentateuch: Exod 20:4–6; Exod 34:6–7; Num 14:18; and Deut 5:8–10. While generational curses remain prevalent within the Maasai worldview in East Africa, an Enlightenment-influenced worldview diminishes curses as a phenomenon. However, fuller understandings develop as we listen and learn from each other.

This research develops a theoretical framework from Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” and applies it through Ellen Herda’s anthropological protocol of “participatory inquiry.” The resulting dialogue with Maasai theologians in Tanzania, builds bridges of understanding across cultures. Elness-Hanson’s intercultural analysis of American and Maasai interpretations of the Pentateuchal texts on the generational curses demonstrates that intercultural dialogues increase understandings, which otherwise are limited by one worldview.

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Edited by Beth E. Elness-Hanson and Jon Skarpeid

A Critical Study of Classical Religious Texts in Global Contexts: Challenges of a Changing World challenges toxic stereotypes of world religions by providing scholarly investigations into classic sacred texts in global contexts. By engaging more perspectives, important connections, and more, complex and humanizing "stories" are developed, inviting the reader to see the face of the "Other" and, perhaps, to see a bit of oneself in that face. In today’s world of increasing polarization and the rise of nationalism, the contributors to this volume welcome the reader to join them in a shared humanity that seeks understanding. A red thread that runs through each chapter relates to the challenges that globalization brings to the sacred texts in various contextual settings. The contributors describe various circumstances related to reading and interpreting sacred writings—whether historical or more recent—which continue to have an influence today. The essays in this volume view these religious texts in relation to four dichotomies: minority-majority, diaspora-homeland, center-periphery of the globalized world, and secular-religious. These elements by no means exhaust the issues, but they serve as a starting point for a discussion of relevant contexts in which sacred texts are read. The breadth of research represented stimulates a deeper understanding that is vital if we are to move beyond stereotypes and religious illiteracy to meaningfully engage the "Other" with wisdom and empathy—important virtues in today’s world. A Critical Study of Classical Religious Texts in Global Contexts will appeal to scholars and graduate students of religious studies, sacred scriptures, and post-colonial studies, as well as informed and inquisitive general readers interested in exploring interfaith dialogue and broadening their religious literacy.