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The Creator of heaven and earth, in His mercy towards fallen man (Genesis 1-3), had made a covenant with their father Abraham, in virtue of which his seed, and in his seed all the peoples of the earth, should be blessed (Genesis 12, 18; II Esdras 9).
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.
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.
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 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The mere external compliance with ritual observances gradually superseded the higher claims of conscience ; the Prophet was replaced by the "scribe", the casuistic interpreter of the Law; and Israel, in its sacred isolation, looked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.
The rise of the Essenes is also ascribed to this period.
At the beginning of our era, Judaism was in external appearance thoroughly prepared for the advent of the Kingdom of God.
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.