The rabbinic agenda, at least as expressed in the Talmudic literature at hand, embraced scriptural interpretation, legal explication and instruction coupled with the inculcation of moral values. If reference to the past could contribute to these categories, the rabbis were not averse to making such reference, for in so doing the past was rendered relevant. The use of מאי דהוה הוה – the anonymous Talmudic redactors might thus be considered a literary device, employed when the rabbinic discourse entered unfamiliar territory, albeit within the larger context of the accepted rabbinic agenda.
Isaiah Gafni, “Concepts of Periodization and Causality in Talmudic Literature”, Jewish History, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Spring, 1996), 31-32.