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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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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Elness-Hanson, Beth E., author. Title: Generational curses in the Pentateuch: an American and Maasai intercultural analysis / Beth E. Elness-Hanson. Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2017. Series: Bible and theology in Africa; v. 24 | ISSN 1525-9846 Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017026106 | ISBN 978-1-4331-4121-8 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-4331-4122-5 (ebook pdf) | ISBN 978-1-4331-4123-2 (epub) ISBN 978-1-4331-4124-9 (mobi) Subjects: LCSH: Blessing and cursing—Biblical teaching. Bible. Pentateuch—Criticism, interpretation, etc.—United States. Bible. Pentateuch—Criticism, interpretation, etc.—Kenya. Bible. Pentateuch—Criticism, interpretation, etc.—Tanzania. Maasai (African people) Classification: LCC BS1225.6.B5 E46 2017 | DDC 222.106—dc23 LC record available at DOI 10.3726/b11479

Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at

Cover image: A Maasai blessing gourd (photo by Beth E. Elness-Hanson). Enculturating Maasai symbolism, Spiritan Brother Ned Marchessault uses a similar gourd in Roman Catholic worship services in Maasai regions in Northern Tanzania. Blessings—carried by a drop of milk in water—spray out through a grass-topped calabash. See Chapter 3 for the meaning behind these symbols.

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