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It's commonly believed that the "ten martyrs" didn't all live in the same time period, and the description of them as a group is conceptual, not historical.

Now the story opens with a Roman ruler filling his palace with shoes, and declaring (ten?) scholars guilty for the kidnapping/sale of Joseph thousands of years earlier.

I guess there are several ways of reading this:

  • The ten did in fact live in the same era, and we've gotten some of their names wrong (see above link).
  • The shoe/kidnapping story happened with some subset of the ten.
  • The shoe/kidnapping story happened with ten rabbis, of whom only a subset were famous and thus listed here.
  • The shoe/kidnapping story is a literary device, and was not intended in a historically literal sense. (I have heard it suggested that this episode reflected a rare instance of strict Divine justice, rather than mercy; and thus they were held accountable for the brothers' sin; so the literary device would help this explanation.)

Does anyone know of any other possibilities? Or which of these it might be?

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The Heikhalot texts have the Roman ruler decreeing that all gedolei Israel had to die for the infraction, and heaven decreeing that it would only be ten, and not all in a single generation as a mercy to Israel.

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do you have a source-link for this? –  Menachem Jun 11 '12 at 14:32
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