This thesis addresses the paradoxical image of
Mark's Gospel in contemporary criticism by an attempt to
follow a tradition-oriented approach informed by the "oralformulaic
theory" of oral literature. Mark is at once a
loosely organized collection of traditionally shaped units
and a coherent narrative with distinct literary qualities.
Current critical approaches have difficulty with these
contrary features of the Gospel.
The oral-formulaic theory, developed in the field of
Homeric studies, is able to account for the units of tradition, their combination and use in extended narratives, and
the literary characteristics of such oral compositions.
Oral narratives are re-composed in each "performance"
through the use of "formulaic" diction and of "thematic"
narrative units fashioned in the tradition. These texts,
if recorded, can be compared and contrasted with written
literature by their formulaic and thematic characteristics.
Discussion of oral-formulaic theory in folkloristics and
related studies provides general support for its description of the traditional process of oral composition, and
enables its application to non-poetic oral narratives.
This account of the nature and literary potential of
oral composition makes significant form-critical principles
outmoded, particularly the ideas of fixed and fragmentary
transmission, which are also essential to redaction criticism. Oral—formulaic theory provides an alternative framework within which to understand features of Mark identified
by form and redaction criticism. Accordingly, the hypothesis of the oral composition of Mark is tested in the second
part of the thesis on the basis of oral-formulaic criteria.
The "formulaic analysis" of Mark 1:1-45 faces uncertainties regarding the identification of formulaic expressions in prose. Even so, a proportion sufficient to satisfy this criterion for orality appears formulaic. The "thematic analysis" describes a network of similar scenes which
covers most of the Gospel. These scenes display structural
characteristics predicted by oral- formulaic theory and were
used in Mark according to recognized oral techniques.
Results of the oral—formulaic analysis of Mark are
positive: the hypothesis is not proven but is worthy of
further consideration, and justifies continued use of a
tradition-oriented approach to the Gospel. Oral traditional composition provides a framework which comprehends both
the traditional and the literary characteristics of Mark
and offers to resolve its paradoxical image.