The dual nature of Rabbinic tales is thus paradoxical – so removed from history on the one hand, yet capable of meaningful comparison with other sources on the other. I propose that this paradox can be resolved on the basis of the process which led to the telling of these tales, as outlined earlier in this section. These narratives had their origin in some aspect of the collective memory which was puzzling and required further explanation. That collective memory preserved recollection of events, whether historical in the strict sense, invented or imagined. Other versions of the same collective memory can be found in parallel sources, such as Josephus or the Qumran texts. Since Rabbinic stories, Josephus and Qumran material went back to the same pool of collective memory, they shed light on each other as sources for writing the history, in the strictest sense, of the events they narrate. On the other hand, the tales of the Sages tried to explain that collective memory in terms that are far from history as we understand it. The personal interactions which predominated as explanations and the closed environment both bring us closer to the world of myth or folktale; topoi were liberally employed. These stories therefore seem remote from history; at the same time they can often teach us much about history.
Albert I. Baumgarten, “Rabbinic Literature as a Source for the History of Jewish Sectarianism in the Second Temple”, Dead Sea Discoveries, Vol. 2, No. 1 (April 1995), 56.