The motivations and ideology of Second Temple sectarian groups appear primarily in Rabbinic tales (as opposed to halakhic discussions), yet employing these stories for the purpose of writing history is problematical. As Fraenkel has insisted, Rabbinic stories discussed the past in a closed environment in which everything took place as a result of personal interaction between protagonists of the groups involved. Our approach is different: we acknowledge the role of the individual as a factor in history, but usually balance that off with explanations of events in social, economic, religious, national or local terms. Furthermore, when we can identify historical backgrounds in these stories on the basis of other sources, there has often been considerable telescoping of events. History, in our sense of the word, was thus very far from the minds of these story-tellers. To complicate matters even more, we recognize that these stories were functioning on at least two levels and arose out of at least two literary contexts: that of the latest story-teller and that of the original story-teller, with many intermediate stages possible. The complex interaction of these contexts with one another, when taken together with the closed environment, presents us with a considerable predicament.
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), 31-32.