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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 Five: Analysis and Potentials


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Analysis and Potentials


At the end of any journey, especially an extensive biblical and theological study such as this one, there are conclusions to be drawn. Chapter 5 begins with a summary of the important findings of this intercultural analysis of Maasai and American interpretations of the generational curses in the Pentateuch. Following the opening, this chapter begins to analyze How were the Hows? This is a self-critique of the methodology or how the research was accomplished. I review my understanding of the strengths and challenges of this Gadamarian-influenced participatory inquiry method of intercultural hermeneutics. Subsequently, this chapter continues with a reflection on some of the potentials for the discipline of intercultural hermeneutics in the near future. Finally, I explore what directions this study may go for further development.

Summary of Findings

Stimulated by the recognition that diverse interpretations of the biblical generational curses were a source of controversy and with my prior experiences engaging the Maasai worldview (review pages 7–8 for the details), I pursue the primary ← 233 | 234 → question of this research: How do we more fully understand the “generational curses” in the Pentateuch? This project engages four quintessential passages in their greater literary contexts: Exod 20:4–6; Exod 34:6–7; Num14:18; and Deut 5:8–10. These passages were selected, because they all contain the language of “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the...

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