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Generational Curses in the Pentateuch

An American and Maasai Intercultural Analysis


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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Chapter One: Question and Texts


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Question and Texts


We are quite aware that the world is changing. While there are many aspects in the dramatic change in the past hundred years, this research project is prompted by the rise of World Christianity, or the Global South, where the majority of Christians are living in the southern hemisphere. However, the majority of biblical scholarship has been developed in the cultural contexts of Europe and North America. Much of this scholarship has been generated out of questions that are of concern within “Western” contexts and an Enlightenment-oriented worldview.1 Yet, much of the “Majority World”2 lives in contexts that have not been as dramatically influenced by Enlightenment concerns, and so these Christians bring different questions to the biblical texts, which “Western” scholarship does not address.

This rise of World Christianity and globalization compels us to be increasingly intentional about building bridges of understanding across cultures. In contrast to welcoming “token” voices into “our” conversation, this research project incorporates the hermeneutical philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer which seeks to facilitate a “fusion of horizons.”3 This means that as we mutually risk our preunderstandings and listen to others and their concerns, we develop together a fuller and growing understanding of selected biblical texts. ← 1 | 2 →

The primary question of this research project is: How do we more fully understand the “generational curses”4 in the Pentateuch? The “we” can be understood...

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