In the decades before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 C.E., Jews gave a new and heightened emphasis to ritual purity. In fact, purity laws may have been interpreted more strictly at this time than at any point before—or since.
A very early rabbinic text says simply, “Purity broke out among Israel.”1 As early as this text is, however, it postdates the destruction of the Temple by about a hundred years. So it is fair to ask, How reliable is it?
Until recently this question plagued historians of the era, called the late Second Temple period, whichextended from the first century B.C.E. until the Roman destruction in 70 C.E.: To what extent could they rely on rabbinic texts dating hundreds of years after the events they describe? Not at all, some prominent scholars insisted.