Our Vision and Mission...
Over the past forty years biblical research has been entering a quiet constructive revolution. In very simplified terms biblical studies have undergone three main phases:
• Theological: reading the Holy Bible as a guide to God-given life and meaning.
• Historical (following post-Reformation developments in science and history): analyzing biblical accounts critically/scientifically to establish how much is factual—empirically verifiable.
• Literary (since around the 1970s): approaching biblical writing as part of the larger world of literature, including artistic and sacred literature. Connection with the larger world of writings requires tracing links to other texts (“intertextuality”) and artistry requires awareness of beauty and symbolism. This approach involves a radical shift of method—“a paradigm shift.”
Among the three major branches, most biblical scholars are more focused on theology and history. This is understandable and appropriate. However, in the present situation, there is a special need for emphasis on the literary—not because the literary is more important but because methodologically the literary aspect comes first.
By highlighting literary issues, as biblical studies have begun to do since the 1970s, there is an opportunity, as never before, to clarify the basics—the very nature of the text (its roots in other texts, and the artistry of its final form)—before undertaking questions of theology and history.
Against this background the Dominican Biblical Institute in Limerick sets out to contribute to the basic task of clarifying the literary roots and the literary shaping of the text. It is like seeking to clarify foundations, somewhat similar to the role of archaeology in uncovering the foundations of history—a role undertaken unflinchingly by Jerusalem’s Ecole Biblique. The full name says Ecole Biblique et Archaeologique.
Within its own scale, the Dominican Biblical Institute in Limerick does likewise. It welcomes all serious methods of interpretation—theological, historical, and literary, including all their subdivisions and associated disciplines, spiritual, textual, archaeological, form-critical, rhetorical, feminist, social, political, and ideological—but there is a special need now for a form of archaeology that is literary—an unflinching willingness to uncover literary roots, however far back they may go, and to trace literary artistry, wherever it may lead.
The ultimate issue is not trivial. Tracing literary artistry has the effect of gathering up the pieces of a biblical book—often fragmented by history-focused analysis—and restoring it to unity. In effect one regains the book in all its integrity, both the book itself and its theological meaning.
Tracing intertextuality has the effect of linking whole books with one another, and of seeing how the various books evolved into forming the Bible. This prepares the way not only for a clear sense of the interaction of the theological meanings, but also for the development of more reliable history.
Tracing intertextuality also has the effect of bringing the Bible more clearly into contact with other literature and of placing the evolution of the Bible within the context of the evolution of world literature, including the world’s other scriptures.
Having taken its place in the evolution of world literature, the Bible may then be seen at part of the larger story of the evolution of humanity and the world—a larger multi-faceted story that combines religion and science. It is such a story, single but multi-faceted, that helps to lay questions to rest and to welcome faith.
This multi-faceted story is not the preserve of experts. It is for everybody—for street level. The experience of the early Dominicans, as they preached and listened to people, was that apparently simple questions required serious study. Even more so today, when the church faces a unique challenge. Research is not an optional extra. It is an integral part of the treasure-house of everyone who wants to tell the story of what God had done.