A similarly narrow spirit animated the Babylonian Jews, for it was from Babylon that Esdras, "a ready scribe in the Law of Moses ", had come to revive the Law in Jerusalem, and their existence in the midst of heathen populations made it all the more imperative for them to cling tenaciously to the creed and worship of Yahweh.
Apparently, things went on smoothly with the priestly community of Juda as long as the Persian supremacy lasted.
On the other hand, the rigour with which the letter of the Law became enforced gave rise to a narrow "legalism".
The mere external compliance with ritual observances gradually superseded the higher claims of conscience ; the Prophet was replaced by the "scribe", the casuistic interpreter of the Law; and Israel, in its sacred isolation, looked down upon the rest of mankind.
On the one hand, this religious attitude of the Judean Jews secured the preservation of Monotheism among them.
History proves that the Persians and the Macedonians respected their religious freedom and even to some extent favoured the worship of Yahweh.
The same conclusion was also brought home to them, when some time after the completion of the Temple, Esdras solemnly read the Law in their hearing.
This reading placed distinctly before their minds the unique position of their race among the nations of the world.
Thence they naturally drew the conclusion that, cost what it may, they must prove faithful to Yahweh, so as to avert a like punishment in the future.Much less happy results followed on the contact of Jewish Monotheism with Greek Polytheism on Palestinian soil.There, worldly and ambitious high-priests not only accepted, but even promoted, Greek culture and heathenism in Jerusalem itself; and, as already stated, the Greek rulers of the early Machabean Age proved violent persecutors of Yahweh worship.No wonder, too, that in opposition to the lukewarmness for the oral Law evinced by the priestly aristocracy -- the Sadducees as they were called -- there arose in Juda a powerful party resolved to maintain at any cost the Jewish separation -- hence their name of Pharisees -- from the contamination of the Gentiles by the most scrupulous compliance, not only with the Law of Moses, but also with the "Traditions of the Elders".
The former of these leading parties was pre-eminently concerned with the maintenance of the status quo in politics, and in the main sceptical with regard to such prominent beliefs or expectations of the time as the existence of angels, the resurrection of the dead, the reference of the oral Law to Moses, and the future Redemption of Israel.With regard to creed, worship, and morality, the Jews felt themselves far superior to their pagan fellow-citizens, and the works of their leading writers of the time were in the main those of apologists bent on convincing pagans of this superiority and on attracting them to the service of the sole living God.