The Torah represents the first edition of the Old Testament, and in the life and thought of Judaism it has always retained that first place. In the reaction from this extreme emphasis upon the law, Christianity has perhaps underestimated the permanent value of the Old Testament legal literature. In rejecting that which is only national and temporal, it has also overlooked much that is vital and eternal. Law and prophecy are not antithetic, as is sometimes imagined, but rather different expressions of the same divine revelation, the one through the life and institutions of the nation, the other through the experience and minds of certain divinely enlightened men. The prophets proclaimed the principles which the lawgivers applied practically and concretely to the needs of their day and race. Both labored in their characteristic way to realize the will of God in the life of the nation and individual; but the lawgivers were in closest touch with that life and therefore in their writings picture it most concretely and vividly.
That inner history, however, is almost completely obscured by the confused order in which the laws at present are found. Civil and ceremonial, criminal and humane, secular and religious, ancient and late laws and legal precedents are all mingled together, with little trace of systematic classification. The one who seeks to read or study them is constantly distracted, as in the book of Proverbs, by the sudden transitions; if he desires to determine the teaching of the Old Testament on a given theme, it is only after the most laborious research that he is able to bring similar laws together. Even when this preliminary work has been done, the result is often perplexing, for many of the laws contradict each other.
The present confused order is the inevitable result of the complex process of collecting, editing and supplementing through which each of the legal books has passed. The laws of many ancient and modern nations present close analogies. Since law through gradual growth is adapted to the varying needs of succeeding generations, there is an inevitable lack of order unless the whole body of enactments is frequently and thoroughly codified.
The first requisite, therefore, if the Old Testament legal literature is to be studied intelligently and profitably, is that similar laws be grouped together, and then that those in each resulting group be arranged in their chronological order. For practical purposes it is important that all the regulations relating to a given subject be reproduced, even at the cost of occasional repetitions. It is also desirable to follow, as far as it can be discovered, the original Hebrew order of classification. In Exodus 21 - 23 , which contains the oldest collection of laws in the Old Testament . . .