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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 Three: The Maasai Concept of Generational Curses as Reconciliation


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The Maasai Concept of Generational Curses as Reconciliation


The Nilotic, seminomadic, pastoralist Maasai1 of East Africa are a people group of approximately 1.3 million concentrated in Kenya and Tanzania.2 The Western intrigue of the mystique of the Maasai is demonstrated by the not-infrequent images of the imposing, tall warrior in ocher-adorned braids and beaded ornamentation standing majestically with a spear in hand and draped in a red robe (shuka).3 Perhaps the traditional image for Maasai women involves the wearing of a distinctive issossi4—the large, disk-shaped beaded collars—around beautiful necks, as they are laden with beads and earrings in their enlarged ear lobes. With this people group’s proximity to national parks, innumerable tourists have encountered Maasai as safari guides, at cultural centers, or along the roadside seeking some shillings for the privilege of having their pictures taken. The Maasai can be seen appearing in movies, such as Out of Africa (1985) or more recently in the TV show, The Amazing Race (2012). The International Movie Data Base identifies three films about the Maasai produced in the first half of 2014 alone!5 However, the myths,6 stereotypes, and presuppositions have been reductionistic7 and have resulted in many, unfortunate outcomes for many of the Maasai.8

In order to get beyond simplistic views of the Maasai, this chapter will provide a preliminary understanding of their traditional culture predominant from the late ← 77 | 78 → nineteenth...

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