For a school assignment, I recently had the opportunity to read Lew Wallace's unabridged book Ben-Hur and I thought I would share a quick review of it. I had been well acquainted with the Charleston Heston movie of this classic story and had assumed that the book would be similar. I was surprised at how different the two really were.
Ben-Hur is actually two different stories wrapped into the same exciting book. The first story being the unjust capture of Judah Ben-Hur, his mother, and sister Tirzah after an accident. Tirzah and their mother were thrown into a cell which was then sealed off from the outside. Judah was doomed to a life of slavery aboard a galley ship. The story follows Judah through his service, rescue, hunt for his family, and his revenge against Rome (not just Massala which the movie shows. Judah and Massala do have a run in and Judah does triumph in the race, but Judah's ultimate revenge is against Rome itself).
The second story is actually not shown in the movie version and is not well known. It is the quest of three men (Judah Ben-Hur, his servant Simonides, and Belthasar - the last of the original wise men) in an attempt to answer a single question: Who is Jesus? Is He the Son of God and the Savior as Belthasar believes? Or will He be the King of the Jews and the conqueror of Rome as Judah and Simonides hope? Their adventures lead them from joining Jesus' followers to the very cross at Calvary until at last they understand the truth.
- All throughout the book, Judah relies on God to help him - and God does provide. The reader is constantly encouraged to trust in God and is shown examples of His love and wisdom through the life of Judah Ben-Hur.
- Lew Wallace challenges the reader to answer the question: Who do you believe Jesus Christ is? As the three men try to answer that question themselves, they constantly turn to Scripture. The author seems to encourage the reader to look up the truths of the Bible and to answer that question.
- Even in all the trials that Judah Ben-Hur faces, he never loses his morals. He also has an upstanding character and is respectful of others.
- As with most good books, evil dies and good triumphs. We are reminded that while it might seem that evil wins for a time, in the end, justice catches up to those who do wrong.
- A main part of the book is Judah's quest for revenge. As Judah schemes and eventually exacts his plans, he does wrong by killing two men, crippling another, attempting to overthrow the government, starting riots and rebelling against those who are in authority over him. He justifies his actions by declaring that it is for a "good cause" or that this "is the will of God" or that it is his "right". Lew Wallace seems to say that revenge is okay if you have a good reason or if someone has done something bad to you. How different from what the Bible says! Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. - Romans 12:19
- The story of Ben-Hur ends with the crucifixion of Christ and makes no mention that He was raised from the dead. Even when we see a brief glimpse of Judah five years later as he is working to protect Christians, there is no mention of the risen Savior. That's okay if you know that Jesus did rise from the dead on the third day, but the impression given is that Christ remained dead and that the Christians are just carrying on His work. This can be very misleading and false. As Christians, we know that our Savior did indeed rise from the dead and that we do not have a dead faith. Readers of Ben-Hur need to keep this in mind and to be discerning.