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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 Four: Exegesis in Dialogue with the Maasai Conceptual Paradigm of Reconciliation


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Exegesis in Dialogue with the Maasai Conceptual Paradigm of Reconciliation


This chapter starts with two foundational issues. First, the process of developing the contextual conceptual paradigm—or lens—is discussed. Second, there is a brief discussion of the comparison of the Maasai to ancient Israel, considering how similarities and some presuppositions influence a minority of Maasai Christian biblical interpretation. Some implications of this comparative analysis relevant for this study are addressed.

The majority of this chapter deals with the intercultural, exegetical inquiry on four biblical texts where generational curses are clearly identified by the phrase, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation.” These texts are Exod 20:4–6; Exod 34:6–7; Num 14:18; Deut 5:8–10.

As identified on page 5 above, exegetical methods which authentically synthesize different voices are currently lacking in biblical scholarship. Frequently, for both Western and African theologians, after establishing a Western view, a Majority World view is compared and contrasted to it. However, this emphasizes the alterity or “otherness” and continues to marginalize the global voices. In contrast, this research engages a contextual, conceptual paradigm through which to view the biblical texts. Instead of following an established Western approach, such as eight categories of steps in a classical exegetical process,1 this exegesis ← 107 | 108 → is done in dialogue between Maasai theologian research participants...

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