Botha, P.J.J. "Chapter Eight: Mark's Story as Oral Traditional Literature." Orality and Literacy in Early Christianity. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013, 174-201.
Modern scholarship is nearly unanimous in understanding Mark as traditional material (Botha 2013, 174). Mark took material about Jesus, at least largely received from others, to construct his Gospel account. He engaged in some level of redaction, assembling and making narrative emendations, to create the actual composition he would consider final. As with other portions of the New Testament, the significant question is the extent of his interpretation and creativity.
Gerhardsson, among others, takes Mark to have maintained a high level of continuity with the actual events and statements documented (Botha 2013, 174), taking the development to have a relatively linear process from notes to larger narrative blocks, to selection and assembly. The Twelve would then have been a group of eyewitnesses who served as an authoritative source of a particular tradition, delivered to them by Jesus and passed on to others, including Mark.
Others posit a tradition, but the composer of the Gospel account as one who bears a greater role in making interpretations, thus turning the evangelist into a person engaged in criticism of the tradition (Botha 2013, 175). An important question in Botha's opinion is whether the view of the evangelist as a creative critic removes the work from its appropriate historical and cultural context. In essence, the role of the evangelist as interpreter may require that we be able to distinguish what existed as tradition from the inventive work of the composer. While we can make plausible conclusions, proof evades us (Botha 2013, 175).
Botha suggests we make an attempt to consider Mark as "oral traditional literature" (Botha 2013, 176). This allows the work to be a matter of composition and recitation including some variation in the material presented, and for the version of Mark which we have to represent one of multiple "performances." This coheres with the formulation of Parry and Lord of folklore traditions. Botha moves on to describe the process by summarizing Lord's formulation.
In Lord's formulation, oral traditional material is not simply memorized, but consists of a dynamic reconstruction of the material (Botha 2013, 177). The structure and phraseology fits into a known, authoritative pattern. In the performance, the performer is actively trading a version of the material to an audience. However, it is "re-composed" each time it is told. The audience, with its specific background context, will influence the presentation of material as well (Botha 2013, 178). The narrator uses particular formulas and themes, drawing them in as appropriate to the setting and audience. This is especially pronounced in the case of poetry, but it can be found in other materials as well. Motion through the content can be adjusted at will, using more or fewer episodes for illustrations, descriptions which are more or less dense in their arrangement, etc. This same pattern may be relevant in our understanding of the composition of a Gospel account (Botha 2013, 179).
Botha observes that rather than being a means by which tradition would develop, the oral traditional narrator would see himself as one who preserves content (Botha 2013, 180). Variations are seen as part of the narrative art, but the art itself is not developmental in nature. Content tends to be very stable.
The oral traditional theory does remain theoretical. The scholarship normally focuses on the process rather than the actual outcome (Botha 2013, 181). Formulas and themes are clearly present in oral works, as in written compositions. Yet it remains difficult to analyze a work and identify it as definitively an oral composition. Lord, however, does suggest that it is possible to identify such works (Botha 2013, 182). As to the outcome of the process, however, he is clear that the oral process necessarily creates a stable product, rather than anything innovative. Innovation is the product of written, not oral, composition.
Botha notes that many aspects of the oral theory do not apply well to prose works, and that Mark's Gospel can be shown to be based on oral composition by means of historical argument. He does, however, take Mark to be an example of the textual outcome of oral composition (Botha 2013, 183). His greater interest is in the process of the transmission.
Formula tends to be closely tied to meter. Botha notes that Parry and Lord had a close relationship to the Homeric writings, in which many of the formulae serve a metrical purpose (Botha 2013, 184). Within folktale formulas, the meter may be lacking. However, the content fits into a thematic frame which remains stable.
Botha notes an argument, made by Talbert, that the gospels are "literary and interdependent" (Talbert, "Oral and Independent," page not cited) (Botha 2013, 184). On the other hand, Lord sees the gospels as substantially distinct and therefore unlikely to depend on each other from a literary standpoint (Botha 2013, 185). Talbert views the agreement of the Synoptics in order of events as a sign of literary interdependence. However, this is not necessarily the case, as an oral framework often includes a sequence of events. Botha observes that the type of literary dependence described by Talbert reflects a typographic bias which would have been impracticable given the technology and customs of the time (Botha 2013, 185).
Based on the practicalities of writing customs and the real nature of human communication, Botha suggests that Mark is appropriately evaluated as an oral work, and that the traditional statistical analyses used to evaluate oral work are not of much use. Quantitative evaluations of syntactical patterns do not lend themselves well to human speech patterns (Botha 2013, 186). The patterns and formulations of oral storytelling are more relevant. The association of stock patterns and illustrations which further a particular element of content can be discerned in oral storytelling, though the minutiae of particular words, phrases, and grammatical constructions may differ (Botha 2013, 187). For instance, the use of epithets as found in Homer is largely absent. However (note at least the Kindle version, apparently erroneously, refers to "epitaphs"), certain formulaic presentations of names exist (Botha 2013, 188). Introductions of speech are quite regular as well. Mark's Gospel also frequently uses narrative elements in the same order in different narrative events (Botha 2013, 189). His use of motifs which can be combined into different contexts suggests an oral type of storytelling. This all suggests to Botha that Mark is working from an extensive "narrative grammar" to create his Gospel account (Botha 2013, 190).
In short, Botha has identified numerous features of Mark's Gospel which point to the compositional tactics of an oral storyteller (Botha 2013, 191). The tradition is brought to life through the art of a storyteller. This is distinctly different from the view of Form Criticism, in which there is a definitive message with definitive wording (Botha 2013, 192). Botha describes the apostolic band and those who followed them as itinerant, prophetic voices, retelling the story of Jesus. At some point, the narrative was dictated and a version reproduced in writing (Botha 2013, 193). The particular narrative of Mark could move toward a particular depiction of Jesus and one or more aspects of his work. This, of course, could differ from the narrative goals of other evangelists who would draw on remarkably similar events using similar structures (Botha 2013, 194).