Girard is often challenging some of my long-held beliefs, or at least ways of organizing psychological and theological ideas.
In this case, I guess I had always been taught that the purpose of the law was to, in some sort of tangible, codifiable way, reveal the nature of God. That is, it is an attempt to explain what his holiness looks like. And it does do that, in a round-about way by defining sin (and condemning us as sinful in the process).
Here though, Girard sees law (in general) as an attempt to bring peace to society. It is a way of putting the stops on mimetic rivalry. Religious law further formalizes the sacrifice and scapegoating process so it is less dangerous to the people. In the case of the Jews then, the primary purpose of the law wasn’t to tell us something about God, but an attempt to keep our own violence at bay. An attempt that God KNEW would fail. That it reveals further the Godly delineation of right and wrong is a side effect. This information was already built into our consciences.
All of my intuitions are really anthropological in the sense that I see law as springing from sacrifice in a manner that is very concrete and not philosophical at all. I see this emergence of law in my readings in anthropology, in monographs on archaic tribes, where its arrival was felt. I see it emerge in Leviticus, in the verse on capital punishment, which concerns nothing other than stoning to death. This is the birth of law. Violence PRODUCED LAW, which is still, like sacrifice, a lesser form of violence. This may be the only thing that human society is capable of. Yet one day this dike will also break.
-Rene Girard, Battling to the End, p.108