Which leads me to one of the ironies I've always found at the heart of Horsley's scholarship. On the one hand, he has made it a regular feature of his research to examine and question established assumptions driving NT scholarship (especially the divide between religion, politics, and economics; the assumption of stable, printed, widely available written texts, etc.). On the other, his own assumptions have created a number of problems, whether because he continues to be influenced by the assumptions he has already undermined (e.g., his interest in Q despite that hypothetical document's dependence on literary theories Horsely elsewhere denounces) or because he applies similar logic as those assumptions to new ones (e.g., his bifurcation of "people's history" from "standard history" despite evidence that both approaches, in isolation from the other, distort our analyses).
With this ambivalence in mind, I point out two references, relatively near to each other, from Horsley's most recent publication:
Anthropologists and social historians, drawing on comparative studies of agrarian societies, have moved well beyond the problematic old two-tier model of aristocratic culture and folk culture. In most situations there is an interaction between a "little tradition," the "distinctive patterns of belief and behavior . . . valued by the peasantry," and the corresponding "great tradition" of the elite. (2008: 28)
There was thus no standardized Scripture that operated as the authority even in the scribal circles and the priestly circles who controlled the Temple. It is highly unlikely therefore that the Hebrew Scriptures were known to Judean and Galilean peasants. Scrolls, which were extremely expensive and cumbersome, were more or less confined to scribal circles. (2008: 29)
Let me say that, in broad strokes, I agree with the main thrusts of both comments. But (and here's the point), Horsley is too restrictive in his view of written texts as weapons wielded by elite power interests to oppress the lower class(es). Written texts—both their contents and the symbolic currency of their material existence—also participated in the "interaction between a 'little tradition' . . . and the corresponding 'great tradition' of the elite." After all, even the gospel texts themselves, which Horsely rightly identifies as rooted in and expressive of a form of little tradition in opposition to Judean great tradition, are written texts. They are also "more than" written texts, inasmuch as they embody a larger, contextualizing tradition that transcends the written texts. But they were never less than written texts.
Here, I think, Horsley has allowed his thinking to be governed by hierarchical structural dynamics, even though he has shown himself to be such a prolific expositeur of other well-established but ultimately inappropriate hierarchies. Horsley is clearly not uncritical. His work is, rather, a useful location for realizing that the social environment into which we learn to read the biblical text exerts massive influence, and the work of distancing ourselves from our heritage in order to understand that heritage is never complete.