Book Review: Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace


by Lew. Wallace

This was a book that someone in our women’s church book club suggested. It was definitely a challenging read. I am telling you straight out that this is not the movie version with Charlton Heston starring as our buddy Ben. Not even close. Let me say that the movie was much more entertaining and not nearly as long as the book. Lew Wallace published this book in 1880. The author himself had quite a lively career, including as a general and the governor of New Mexico. He was a Christian and this was his idea of ancient Rome’s rule over Israel at the birth and life of Christ.

His testimony of Jesus Christ is throughout this book. The story opens with the coming together of the 3 Magi, Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar, and them following the star to where the Christ Child lying in a manger. The tale then switches over to focus on a rich young prince of Israel, Judah Ben-Hur. (Most of you probably know that the word Ben before a last name means son of —.) He lives with his mother and his younger sister in happiness and peace until he is accused of trying to kill a Roman procurator, Valerius Gratus. He and his family are on the roof/porch of their palace as the Roman legion and Gratus pass by. A loose tile falls from the edge hitting the procurator. The legion raids his home, killing his servants, taking his mother and sister prisoner, condemning Ben-Hur as a galley slave, rowing a Roman war vessel. The duumvir as captain of the ship,Quintus Arrius, notices him and begins to favor him. During a battle as the ship is destroyed, he saves the duumvir’s life. He is adopted by Arrias and his fortune changes.

In time he returns to his ancestral home. His mother and sister are still not accounted for. And though, he searches for them it is in vain. His former Roman friend, the Messala, becomes his sworn enemy because he is the one who had his family hauled away. Ben-Hur lives to get his revenge.

It took a lot of effort to continue the book as the first 150 pages or so were mighty boring. I appreciated that he was delving into Jewish and Roman culture to set the background, but good grief, it was murder. However, I hate to start a book and not finish it, so I struggled on. Finally finished the book last night after weeks of having read a bit at a time. In addition to the fact that it was so boring at the first, Mr. Wallace is as wordy as Victor Hugo. Three pages to make one sentence. Finally, I was insulted that he kind of painted the Savior as a weakling. Hmmm. Jesus was a carpenter, for goodness sake. I am sure He lifted a few 2×4’s and used a hammer. It actually made me angry.

So after, this diatribe, (Oh no! I’ve become as wordy as Lew!) I can say I persevered and finished this classic, and just about 3 months after the book club group finished it! Want to know the quick version, though somewhat inaccurately portrayed in the movie, watch the movie!!!

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