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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.Nor was this happy condition materially interfered with under Alexander the Great and his immediate successors in Syria and in Egypt.In fact, the first contact of the Judean Jews with hellenistic civilization seemed to open to them a wider field for their theocratic influence, by giving rise to a Western Dispersion with Alexandria and Antioch as its chief local centres and Jerusalem as its metropolis.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.Much less happy results followed on the contact of Jewish Monotheism with Greek Polytheism on Palestinian soil.
The sacred ordinances of the Law were no burden to them, and gladly did they even increase the weight by additional interpretations of its text.
All the past misfortunes of their race were thus distinctly seen as so many chastisements intended by God to recall His ungrateful people to the observance of the Law, whereby they would secure the holiness necessary for the blameless discharge of their priestly mission to the rest of the world.
They, therefore, pledged renewed faithfulness to the Law, leaving it to God to bring about the glorious day when all the earth, with Jerusalem as its centre, would recognize and worship Yahweh ; they broke every tie with the surrounding nationalities, and formed a community wholly sacred unto the Lord, chiefly concerned with the preservation of His faith and worship by a strict compliance with all the ritual prescriptions of the Law.
However much the Jews living among the Greeks mingled with the latter for business pursuits, learned the Greek language, or even became acquainted with hellenistic philosophy, they remained Jews to the core.
The Law as read and explained in their local synagogues regulated their every act, kept them from all defilement with idolatrous worship, and maintained intact their religious traditions.
At the present day, the term designates the religious communion which survived the destruction of the Jewish nation by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. It was that religion which had prompted the exiles to return to the land promised by Yahweh to their ancestors, and they were now determined to maintain it in its purity.