Eliezer Segal ends his essay, "Aristeas or Haggadah: Talmudic Legend and the Greek Bible in Palestinian Judaism" (Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism, edited by Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008], 159–72), with an excellent statement of the messiness of ancient historiography (and so of our knowledge of ancient history). We would all do well to remember that what we don't know—about Jesus, the early Christians, other Jews among whom they lived, and the larger world that all of these had to navigate daily—dwarfs what we do know, almost (almost) to the point of calling into question whether we know anything at all. (We do, of course, but everything we know is always subject to subsequent revision.) At any rate, here are Segal's closing words:
Only when speaking about rabbinic Jews as a theological category is it possible to imagine that they maintained a uniform Bible text, uniform observances, and uniform beliefs; and that they and their Pharisaic predecessors could impose them on all Jews. It is only by subscribing to those naïve beliefs that rabbinic literature can be used as the basis for reconstructions of Ptolemaic Alexandria or the age of Jesus. Compared to those neat classifications, the alternatives are just too . . . well, messy. Even if we could be persuaded that ancient Palestinian peasants were, for some reason, more consistent in their beliefs and practices than our own experience with human nature would suggest possible, a faith in clearly defined sectarian divisions is much easier to deal with than the evidence of, say, an Essene-like community that honored the Zadokite priesthood, observed Sadducee halakhah, and yet maintained a belief in survival after death, perhaps even in bodily resurrection. The tidy consistency of the older categories is unquestionably attractive, even if it is historically indefensible. (172)
As Moses might have said if he were the son of a different age: True dat.