David Sarkies's Reviews > Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace
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's review
Jul 22, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical
Recommended to David by: Charlton Heston
Recommended for: Everybody
Read from July 13 to 25, 2010 — I own a copy

One man's search for redemption
27 July 2010

Needless to say that the book is much better than the movie, and when it comes to Ben Hur, that is definitely saying something. While the famous scenes in the movie are replicated from the book (that being the chariot race and the sea battle), there is much more to the book than there is to the movie (though the theme is the same in both). The book is actually called Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It may seem that Christ is only a bit part in the book (and in the movie) but his presence in the world of Ben Hur dominates.

Much of Ben Hur is about who the Christ is and what his purpose is in the world, and there is a lot of discussion about this. We have Balthasar, an Egyptian and one of the wise men who visited Christ at birth. He is seeking a redeemer, somebody to restore the relationship between humanity and their creator. Then there is Ben Hur, a Jew who believes that the Messiah is a king who shall come and liberate them from the Romans (and he even has three legions ready to be called when the king comes on his own). To us this side of the cross, Balthasar is correct in identifying Christ as a redeemer, and it is that realisation in Ben Hur that forms the centerpiece of the book (and this is something that isn't teased out in the movie, though the scene where Ben Hur sits at the foot of the cross and looks up to Christ still sits in my mind as one of the greatest scenes in film history).

However the first part of the book (like the movie) is about how Ben Hur comes through his own redemption. At the beginning he meets Masarla, a childhood friend who traveled to Rome for an education, and it is when they meet as adults that they discover that they can no longer be friends. Masarla believes that the Jews are a backward people clinging to their outdated traditions (much like how the world views Christians today) while Ben Hur is convinced by his mother that these outdated traditions are not outdated, but eternal, and demonstrates that Masarla is incorrect when he accuses the Jews of not having a culture (and identifies the psalms and the prophets as examples of their literary ability – indeed today the book of Isaiah is considered a literary masterpiece).

Ben Hur travels to hell in the form of being a slave on a galley, but he is released shortly before the battle, and it is this act of a gracious tribune that redeems him in the eyes of Rome. From then on, while clinging to his Jewish heritage, he is reborn as a Roman and is able to pass through the Roman world as a Roman. However, it is his heritage that defines him, and Ben Hur is faithful to that heritage.

While in the film the focus is on Ben Hur's search for his mother and sister, and then his quest to see them healed of their leprosy, this is a mere sub-plot in the book. The quest is for the Christ and the redemption of Israel, however at its conclusion, it is not a physical redemption from Rome that is achieved, but a spiritual redemption with God.
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message 1: by Henry (new)

Henry Avila Terrific review David, I didn't think the book, could be as good as the film!


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