Review of Ben Hur by Lew Wallace
I recently pulled out an old book which has been gathering dust on my shelf for years. I’ve required my children to read it, but never read it myself. When the upcoming movie of the same title was announced, I decided that it was time to see what this book was all about.
Written by an American author, this book is actually set in the beginning of the first century AD. It’s a long book, divided into eight books and 81 chapters. It’s well worth reading every one.
If you’ve heard anything about Ben Hur; A Tale of Christ, you probably know about the chariot race. That’s how most people refer to it. “That’s the movie with the chariot race, right?” While the race is exciting and there is a bit of build up for it, the book is so much more. As a matter of fact, that famous race happens near the end of Book Five, a little over half way through the book.
Ben Hur; A Tale of Christ follows the trials and victories of Judah, a young Jewish man. Surprisingly though, we do not see our first glimpse of him until Book Two. Book One is all about three wise men coming together and following a star in search of a great king. I have to admit that I was confused by this. After all, what do the three wise men have to do with a chariot race? Then I remembered that the book is subtitled “A Tale of Christ.”
Our hero, Judah, has been raised next to a young Roman whom he considers a great friend. We learn very quickly that now in their older teen years there is tension in this relationship. Both young men come from great families. Both hold great promise and have much to live for, and lose. Messala, as the Roman is known, does all things for his and Rome’s glory, including insulting Judah’s culture, choices, and God.
Judah is a direct descendant of Hur, a close associate of Moses. In this culture men were often referred to by their family name so instead of always being called Judah, he was often called “Son of Hur” or “Ben Hur”.
Judah’s father has died so his lives with his mother and sister whom he loves very much. He has been raised to do all things for the Glory of God.
A terrible accident occurs which leaves Judah accused of attempted assassination of a Roman official, his property ceased by Rome, his mother and sister taken away to nobody knows where. Without even so much as a trial he is condemned to slavery on a Roman Galley Ship, a virtual death sentence.
Through hard work, faithful service, and a heroic rescue of a Roman officer Ben Hur manages to win his freedom, and be adopted by the same wealthy officer. He spends years training as a Roman soldier and searching for information about his mother and sister. Along the way he finds opportunity to also take revenge on the men responsible for his unjust punishment.
Ben Hur heard rumors about the Messiah travelling throughout Israel. He spent time with, and received counsel from, one of the very same wise men from Book One of this tale. He participated in conspiracies that attempted to aid this great king in the overthrow of Rome. He even learned the true nature of the Kingdom which Jesus, the Christ, was establishing.
Mr. Wallace does a superb job of depicting life under Roman occupation. The story travels from port to port, across southern Europe and the Middle East. I was amazed at the ease with which he seemed to weave actual Biblical history into this epic tale, as well as unconnected characters into a close knit story. I also loved the way the author expanded on the descriptions of people reacting to the miraculous things that were happening in Israel.
Ben Hur; A Tale of Christ is a long, but completely engaging, book which I recommend to everybody. It will take you much longer to read than the two hours that the new movie lasts, but it is well worth the investment.
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