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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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“I am because we are, and since we are therefore I am.”1 This African ontological proverb expresses my assessment of this volume, which began as a doctoral dissertation. My program in Old Testament at Misjonshøgskolen, in Stavanger, Norway—which was recently renamed VID Specialized University—was under the supervision of Prof. Knut Holter. He saw the potential of the proposal and nurtured this project to fruition beyond my expectations with his relentless support, constructive critiques, and modeling of exemplary diplomacy.

This scholarly journey would not have begun without Dr. Charles Scalise and Dr. Pamela Scalise, who generously mentored me after my studies at Fuller Seminary Northwest. This research topic was sparked by Pam, but I ended up at VID through Charlie’s phronesis (practical wisdom).

The journey would not have come to completion without the careful scrutiny and gracious challenges from my esteemed dissertation committee: Dr. Fernando F. Segovia, Vanderbilt University; Dr. Madipoane Masenya (ngwan’a Mphahlele), University of South Africa; and Dr. Marta Høyland Lavik, VID Specialized University. I was honored to have such exceptional members who were uniquely qualified to assess an intercultural project.

I thank my Maasai conversation partners generously shared their voices and wisdom with me. I would prefer to honor you by name if research protocols allowed it, but this project would not have been possible without your vital participation. Your insights nurtured my Bildung (transformation). ← xiii | xiv →

My research was aided...

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