The early sages were not known by their names, except for the nesi’im and the presidents of the bet din, because there were no disputes among them. Instead, they knew clearly all the explanations of the Torah. They also knew the Talmud clearly, with all its detailed discussions and inferences….
As long as the Temple was standing, each one of the sages taught his students the explanations of Scripture, Mishnah, and Talmud, using words which he composed for the occasion; and the sages would render halakhic decisions for their students as they saw fit. Wisdom was abundant, and they were not troubled by other distractions. Only the semikhah controversy existed among the early sages. And when Shammai and Hillel came, they, too, only argued on three points, as we say- “Rav Huna said- ‘Shammai and Hillel were in disagreement on three issues.’”
When the Temple was destroyed, the sages moved to Betar, and when Betar was also destroyed, they dispersed in every direction. On account of all these upheavals, persecutions, and disturbances, the students did not serve the sages sufficiently, and disputes increased.
Rashi Bava Metzia 33b
Since from the time of the disciples of Shammai and Hillel, three generations before him [meaning Rebbi], there were great disputes regarding the meanings of the Torah and there arose the possibility of there being two Torahs amongst Israel, due to the oppression of the kingdom [Rome] and the evil decrees passed against Israel. Because of these [troubles] they [the scholars of Israel] were unable to clarify the differing opinions and settle them, until [came] the time of Rebbi. Then did the Lord give favor unto Rebbi in the eyes of the Roman emperor, Antonius, and the troubles subsided, and Rebbi was able to gather all of the scholars of the Land of Israel to him [in Beit She’arim and Tzippori]. Until his [Rebbi's] days, there were no ordered tractates [of the Oral Law] but rather every student studied and reviewed lectures that he heard from the great men and he ascribed to them these teaching s-"this halachah heard from this and this scholar." Now, when they all gathered together [at Rebbi's yeshivah], each of the scholars repeated what he had learned and together they worked to clarify the reasons behind disparate opinions and they settled as to which opinion was to be deemed correct. And then they ordered these opinions and decisions into tractates: the laws of torts by themselves, the laws of levirate marriages by themselves, the laws of the Temple service by themselves, [etc]. And they quoted the opinions and decisions of many scholars anonymously, for Rebbi agreed with their decisions and therefore quoted them anonymously in order to indicate that so is the halachah.
Philo’s lengthy version of the incident is found in his Embassy (Legatio ad Gaium) ch. 29-43 (184-348). It is summarized by E. Mary Smallwood as follows:
The Jews of Jamnia demolished an altar built by the Greeks resident in that town. The latter complained to Herennius Capito, the procurator of the imperial estate in which Jamnia lay, who reported the matter to Gaius. Gaius decided that, as a punishment for the Jews’ action, a colossal gilded statue of himself should be made and erected in the Temple, and he sent orders to Publius Petronius, the legate of Syria, to carry this decision out, with the help of military force if necessary. Petronius sought to forestall the inevitable Jewish opposition by summoning the Jewish leaders to a conference while the statue was being made, for the purpose of informing them of his orders and of advising them to urge the rest of the population not to resist the desecration. His appeal to them was unsuccessful, and when the Jews at large got to know of the scheme, they staged mass demonstrations of protest before Petronius, who by then was in Phoenicia with an army. Their pleas impressed the legate. He wrote to Gaius apologizing for the delay over the dedication of the statue and explaining that this was due partly to the work involved in the construction of the statue and partly to the fact that it was the season of the grain-harvest, which he feared that the Jews might deliberately destroy in their frenzied opposition to the proposed desecration; there would then be danger of a famine, which would be inconvenient when Gaius traveled, as he intended to do in the near future, to Alexandria via the coasts of Syria and Palestine. In a politely worded reply Gaius concealed the irritation which he felt at Petronius’ failure to carry out his orders promptly and his presumption in pleading the Jews’ cause; he commended his forethought, but told him to expedite the dedication of the statue, as the harvest must by then be in. Not long afterwards, however, Gaius was persuaded by the reasoned arguments presented to him in writing by his friend, Herod Agrippa of Judaea, to rescind his order, and he sent instructions to Petronius to leave the Temple unmolested.