Horsley, Richard A. "Oral and Written Aspects of the Emergence of the Gospel of Mark as Scripture." Oral Tradition 25:1 (2010), 93-114.
Horsley observes that numerous challenges exist in our common presuppositions which underlie much biblical scholarship. The way authors approached their work, a time of New Testament texts existing without being recognized as authoritative and the nature of the distance between Judaism and Christianity are all difficult topics worthy of study (Horsley 2010, 94). Horsley takes the Gospels in particular to be problematic due to their lack of rhetorical polish and erudition. He sees this as a likely problem in what he understands to be an adoption of the texts in the fourth or fifth centuries by ecclesial authorities.
By evaluating Mark as an oral work which became widely distributed and respected before being written down, Horsley thinks it may have been more acceptable to leaders (Horsley 2010, 95). Horsley takes this to be a more plausible scenario if we first recognize that print culture did not exist in the first century.
Horsley asserts that it is more appropriate to think of texts as functioning primarily in the memory of monks and scribes, rather than being primarily written documents (Horsley 2010, 96). To take this view moves the scholar away from the assumption of the Gospel as a text composed in writing by a person consulting other written texts. Horley cites numerous recent studies which suggest a more oral culture, especially in Roman Judea, than we have previously assumed (Horsley 2010, 97).
Mark's Gospel, with its frequent references to biblical texts, introduced by "it is written," suggests the existence of authoritative texts (Horsley 2010, 98). However, the quotation introduced normally seems to be quoted from memory. A similar pattern is present in the Didache.
Horsley also considers it important that Mark's Gospel is addressed to "ordinary people" (Horsley 2010, 99). This largely presupposes an oral environment. Copies of the Scripture would not have been readily available and could not be read by ordinary people. They would know the Scripture by means of those who spoke of God's word (Horsley 2010, 100).
In the culture, then, Horsley takes Mark to have been transmitted through oral performance, not through study of a written text (Horsley 2010, 101). This attitude is borne out through several statements of early Christians, who would seek out a speech, not a document, looking for authority.
It is important that a text which will be widely performed and come into common use must be particularly approachable by its audience (Horsley 2010, 104). Horsley sees this as the case in Mark's Gospel. The text refers to well known cultural events and stories. Jesus is readily seen as a parallel to other figures in Scripture, thus also a fulfillment of the areas where they come short (Horsley 2010, 105). The introductory and concluding statements signal a shift of an oral storytelling setting. The narrative also tends to progress using memorable triads of activity (Horsley 2010, 106). Concentric or chiastic elements also often serve as an aid to memory.
Horsley continues by outlining the narrative structure of Mark's Gospel in terms which illustrate how it could well be memorized for oral performance (Horsley 2010, 107). The steps and scenes are quite logical and memorable.
Horsley concludes that we need to reach behind our presuppositions, which build strongly on print technology, to find the oral model used (Horsley 2010, 109).