During a debate with Vincent which has been really fruitful, over here (on the nativity accounts), D Rizdek came out with this gem. It is well worth posting. Lots to talk about. It is such a rich subject - what sort of person compiled the Gospels and how would they logistically go about it? See what you think.
It always puzzles me at the idea that someone might assume one person, be he named Matthew or Sam, just sat down one day and decided to write a book called the Gospel according to Matthew from memory or from his own notes. Is this how literary scholars think things got written? It seems much too simplistic to me.
I imagined that long descriptions of peoples lives, biographies if you will, like those in the gospels were the result of cobbling together stories from various sources. Some might be from oral narratives memorized and passed on. Others might be anecdotes told and passed on for various reasons...humor, moral meaning, amazing feats, etc. Others might be from interviews with someone who knew someone who knew someone. Yet others were taken from scrapes of notes collected from various followers of various charismatic leaders over decades. Still others were taken from older scriptures. As time goes by, someone here, someone there tries to meld some of the stories with, say, ancient scriptures. Someone else melds the scrapes of notes with information gathered from interviews. Eventually someone tries to put them all together and what we come up with is something like one of the gospels. Maybe the person that finally compiled Matthew was named Matthew but I see no reason to think so. Likely the "final" compiler was nobody important...why would he feel like he was particularly important? He would be just one more link in a chain that had been going on for decades, maybe centuries, copying and compiling, copying and compiling. It would only be later in the process when some authority person or group might assign particular importance to one or another version and maybe even attach names to the various gospels...for who knows what reason.
The similarities of the gospels would be where the last compiler had at hand sources of the kind mentioned above that matched what another compiler also had. Some, where carefully memorized stories or written accounts were identical might result in accounts that were word for word the same. In other cases, the same event is described with slight differences where the information was passed on by different means or less carefully. And in some cases, completely different events might show up...as in the case of the magi appearing in one story and shepherds appearing in anther story.
This "final compiler(s)" might believe all they are writing is true. That is, they are not making up fiction at the end of their pen, so to speak. They might even believe it true enough that they'd die for it. Folks throughout history have died for things they haven't personally seen but fervently believe in. Consider how many were burned by the RCC for heresy...ie steadfastly maintaining a belief in things they could not possibly be eyewitnesses to or have absolute reliable information about. And consider the RCC taking it upon themselves to burn people for heresy for things they could not be sure about. Someone's gotta be wrong regardless of how convinced/convicted they are. Take a contemporary Christian. Would some of them be willing to die before denying the Lordship of Jesus? I'm guessing yes.
And these few people who ultimately compile all this stuff into one long book need not have been eyewitnesses to write as if they were eyewitnesses. Because perhaps some of the stories they heard/read were told/written as if from an eyewitness perspective and they just wrote it with that same perspective. They are, after all, just copying and compiling what is before them and what they think is true. Nothing in the stories would hint to them that the stories were not reliable, so they could, with honesty, write as if their accounts were (almost) first hand.
That would account for the appearance of anecdotes and stories that "date" to one time in history while the final compilation might have occurred much later. So, the earliest bits of information, in say Mark, might date to, say 60 or 70 CE. (I'm just making this up for discussion purposes) But that doesn't mean the final compilation was made anywhere close to that date. In fact, finding bits and pieces that can be dated seem to tell us nothing about the timing of the final compilation and it tells nothing of when other bits and pieces were recorded or invented, as the case may be.