Niditch observes that since the 1960s some scholars have sought to understand the biblical narratives in terms of the oral compositional tools identified by Lord and used in Homer, as well as in modern Serbo-Croation oral poetry. One of the challenges in this analysis is the fact that these models have been based on the composer as an illiterate individual (Niditch 1995, 387). There are clear examples of metrical roots of many passges in the Bible. The question is whether these were oral composition or not. Niditch particular studied formula patterns in the prophets, trying to see what tools were in use (Niditch 1995, 388). Niditch concluded that the Hebrew Bible does not have enough examples to draw certain conclusions. However, she did observe that there are particular traditional ways of expressing particular ideas.
One of the challenges is the definition of poetry and the difference between poetry and prose. Niditch, with Kugel, thinks the distinction between prose and poetry is not absolutely clear (Niditch 1995, 389). Further, the distinction between oral composition and written composition is not always clear. There is an "oral register" which may not preclude written composition, at least partially written composition.
Niditch finds that the oral register appears in the Hebrew Bible through repetition, through formulaic patterns, and through recurring content patterns (Niditch 1995, 390). These are not necessarily compositional patterns, but they are consistent with a style rooted in oral composition and performance. Niditch, inspired by Foley, considers this style to signify deep cultural meanings and worldview, not to be a mere compositional tool (Niditch 1995, 391). For this reason, Niditch considers some of the oral elements and their possible ties to cultural meaning.
Purposeful repetition abounds in the Hebrew Bible. "Repetition is not a simple-minded stylistic device that allows an audience to follow a story that is heard rather than read or that provides a composer a quick way to create content without varying the vocabulary or that merely provides the syntax. Repetition is a means of emphasizing metonymically key messages and moods in a work of literature as in a musical composition" (Niditch 1995, 393). The repetition points to relationshiops, contrasts, and the overall view the author wishes us to have of the situation, as Niditch illustrates with several examples.
Formulas likewise suggest more complex meanings. Epithets, for example, point to an aspect of the individual character so as to emphasize it as it works in a particular setting (Niditch 1995, 395). Niditch illustrates this concept at some length tracing the epithets referring to bulls in the Old Testament. The God of Jacob is shown as the bull who is greater than the bull Baal, who serves as a fertility idol but has no real power. Longer formulas likewise emphasize certain aspects of the situation. Niditch identifies this in combinations of terms when a leader summons assistants including advisors. The central element may be the depiction of a context rather than simply a list of people called upon (Niditch 1995, 397).
Reference to a text or tradition is another area in which the oral register can become plain. For instance, a reference to "it was good" would naturally direct attention toward the creative work of God (Niditch 1995, 398). The greater story of a character or group may be alluded to through such references.
Patterns of content, including those underneath different recurring topoi, may also draw attention to particular issues. Niditch notes that this study is not unrelated to traditional form criticism. She discusses a number of different patterns which appear frequently in the Hebrew Bible (Niditch 1995, 401). The pattern of victory and enthronement is very common. These patterns may invite the reader to look forward to a condition of plenty as a result of God's salvation (Niditch 1995, 402). The use of these patterns can be a very effective tool as authors move reader/listener attention to important themes.