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?