This section is basically a Cliff Notes version of Leviticus, with God laying out the Ten Commandments and various other laws and penalties.
It made me think of a recent article about patterns of revenge in stateless societies. With no formal system of justice, things tend to spiral downwards into revenge and revenge for the revenge until the violence goes way beyond the original crime. Here's the "money quote":
"A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth was not, for the tribal people who codified this rule, a recipe for unbridled violence, but rather an attempt to contain it," Dr. Beckerman says.
This is an important thing that a lot of moderns don't realize when they look at ancient law codes. The severity of the penalties -- death for adultery, for instance -- are not due to a tyrannically moralistic state but the fact that the penalties people exact on each other, when left to their own devices, are even more severe. There are societies in the world even today where, if you catch your wife with another guy, you're more or less expected to kill them. This attitude lingered on in the West for a long time -- the hero of Jane Eyre, for instance, isn't seen as especially evil just because he shot his mistress' boyfriend. This was not because of an abstract moral objection to adultery, but because of a natural rage at the injury.
In fact, some legal codes of the day went a lot farther than the Bible on the tit-for-tat scale. As I recall, in the Code of Hammurabi if someone killed your child then one of his children would be killed, and in the Assyrian code if you raped someone's wife then your wife would get raped. (Who the lucky party was who carried out this punishment, I don't know.) Of course, this also reflects the fact that women and children were regarded as property of men, which the OT basically agrees with, but not (fortunately) to that extreme.
If we don't look at things that way in the West today, I suppose it's because we've moved so far away from the lawless state that justice has become depersonalized. Adultery is, for most people, a lot more painful than getting their wallets snatched. But sex is seen mostly as a ''private" matter, which is a distinction I don't think the ancients would have understood. Law isn't really about personal pain any more; it's about abstract concepts like individual rights and property rights. (Although civil law still has that element, as in damage awards for "emotional distress.")
On another note, I thought this was interesting:
When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins. (22:16-17)
This is a more pragmatic attitude about premarital sex than you might expect from the Bible, given what is usually taken to be the "Biblical" position on the subject. Not that that mightn't come later; it wouldn't be the Bible if it were perfectly consistent...
UPDATE: Getting back to the subject of revenge, here's another suggestive bit:
Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee.(21:12-13)
The notes explain that an "act of God" basically refers to an accidental killing. If it was an accident, why would the killer have to flee? I can only think it would be to escape distraught relatives who would want to kill him, even if they knew it wasn't his fault.
In fact, though the above article doesn't mention it, one striking thing about vigilante justice in tribal societies is how little intent actually matters. Kenneth Good, an anthropologist who lived among the natives of the South American rainforest and married one of them, wrote that if a woman was raped in that society her husband would usually beat her out of sheer hysteria, even if he believed that she didn't consent. Her fault wasn't the issue; it just drove him crazy to think she had sex with someone else. Or think of Oedipus, whose whole family was cursed for his patricide and incest, even though he didn't know at the time that he was doing them. It's interesting that God seems to be considering intent but also allowing for the feelings of the family.