Only the tradition of Moses integrated civil law into the religious mythos, the sacred narrative. For this reason it has the singular inflection of an attentie, passionate - and singular - divine voice. In what other body of law could compliance be urged with the phrase "for you know the heart of the stranger"? This is not to minimize the ethical achievements of great pagans like Plato and Cicero, achievements revered by Christians as long as the classics were read and there were still Christians of a mind to revere. But the extreme tension these pagans felt between the traditions of Hesiod and Homer and their own ethical systems is well known and very much to the point.
Some fragments of the Twelve Tablets of Roman Law survive. They are part of a social code, and might suggest something of the character of civil law in an earlier period, nearer to the time of Moses. Two laws respecting the treatment of debtors are of particular interest in light of the attention paid to this question in the Pentateuch. One says, "If they (creditor and debtor) do not come to another agreement, debtors are held in bonds for sixty days. During that time they are brought before court on three successive market days, and the amount for which they are liable shall be publicly announced." And the next says: "On the third market day [any multiple] creditors shall cut [the debtors] into pieces. If they shall cut more or less than their due, it shall be with impunity."
As with any ancient law, including those attributed to Moses, it is possible to say that this doesn't mean what it seems to mean, or it wasn't really enforced. And to make this kind of argument is perfectly respectable so long as it is made even handedly. That said, over against this language, it is striking to not how protective, even tender, comparable Old Testament laws are toward debtors. This is Deuteronomy 24:10-13: "When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to fetch his pledge You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge; when the sun goes down, you shall restore the pledge that he may sleep in hi cloak and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the Lord your God." The Geneva Bible has a note that makes the law gentler yet. It says, "As though ye wouldst apppoint what to have, but shalt receive what he may spare." No one can read the books of Moses with any care without understanding that law can be a means of grace. Certainly this law is one spirit with the Son of Man who says, "I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me." This kind of worldliness entials the conferring of material benefit over and above mere equity. It means a recognition of and respect for both the intimacy of God's compassion and the very tangible forms in which it finds expression. Cranky old Leviticus gave us - gave Christ - not only "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" but also the rather forgotten "Thou shalt love the stranger as thyself," two verses which appear to be merged in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Still, startlingly gentle law like these fall under the general condemnation of Old Testament severity, and Calvin's refinements with them.
The tendency to hold certain practices in ancient Israel up to idealized modern Western norms is pervasive in much that passes for scholarship, though a glance at the treatment of the great class of debtors now being evicted from their homes in America and elsewhere should make it clear that, from the point of view of graciousness or severity, an honest comparison is not always in our favor. Morgan is right about the this-worldliness of the Torah, and wrong in suggesting that this must mean its teachings are therefore without transcendent meaning. "Do unto others" is a behest that, if acted on, can have very tangible real-world consequences. The emperor Julian note that no Jew was ever forced to beg. So this-worldly are God's interests that he cares whether some beleaguered soul can find comfort in his sleep. He cares even to the point of overriding what are called by us, though never by Moses or Jesus, the rights of property.
A number of theologians have pointed out that The Law, considered to be so unspeakably harsh with all of those cherry picked and, granted, severe passages about stoning people or inflicting death, is, actually, a means of setting up an economic and political order to prevent the kind of horrendous and domineering wealth that was typical of both ancient and classical paganism. And it established a degree of egalitarianism, as more than just an entirely unachieved ideal, which we have so rejected that it seems unnatural or impossible to achieve. Marxism certainly neither proposed anything as radical nor did it even come near to achieving what ever feeble attempts in that direction were asserted. Neither does capitalism - by which I mean what capitalism became, which doesn't even achieve the far less brutal form that Adam Smith advocated. Our American quasi-democratic system didn't start out to achieve anything nearly as human or just - compare the fugitive slave laws of the United States as to those of Deuteronomy or the actions of the ICEstapo as compared to the Mosaic Law as to how "the stranger" is to be treated.
Yet it is the common received wisdom of many, perhaps almost all college credentialed people that the Law of Moses is brutally harsh and barbaric whereas the "enlightenment" law which oversaw the hanging and execution of huge numbers of even children for stealing trifles and such events as the Reign of Terror as some great advance over them.
I look at the period that is held up to discredit religion, such things as the Thirty Years War and the Inquisition and then I look at the enlightenment order with its wars, its ideological and scientifically based terror and genocide campaigns and can point out that the excesses of Christianity are violations of The Law, the Prophets and the Gospel but can't point to anything in the age when science was alleged to be a replacement for it and can find nothing in science that was violated by the mass murders of the modern period. I don't think you can even make a good case that American law has proved to be any kind of real success as an advancement, though we have had our moments of greatness which is always, and inevitably when we've violated the norms of "rational self interest".
In 2006 when the movie Amazing Grace,** about the struggle of Wilberforce and some others to get Britain to abolish de jure slavery was made, there was a hue and cry on the secularist-atheist internet about the terrible wrong of associating abolition with Christian religion, though that is, in fact, what history proves was the case. The Abolitionist movement was a religious movement and it succeeded through appeals to religious belief. So was most of what was achieved in other struggles for economic justice.
The fact is you have to make hard change out of something, it doesn't just happen and the "skepticism" and materialism of secularism is totally impotent to make that change or to sustain it. I think the past fifty years have provided American liberals with a real life test of that in which the gains made with such hard sacrifice in the Civil Rights and other movements have been eroded under a program of secularism. You have to really, really believe to make change. Really, really believing in atheist-materialist ideologies might provide some excitingly violent stuff that manages to gain power as it imposes a despotism as bad or worse than what it replaced, to do good takes something entirely different, it takes the kind of belief that is provided by a specific kind of religion, the kind that in the West is found in its most promising and potent form in monotheistic religion.
** Didn't see it so I'm not expressing an opinion about the movie, only the reaction to it that I remember online.