This historical adventure book by Lew Wallace is published by Signet Books and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by high school classes.
When Judah Ben-Hur's childhood friend, Messala, returns from school indoctrinated by Roman teachings, he cruelly mocks Ben-Hur's Jewish beliefs. Messala works for the new Roman governor, Gratus, who stages an inaugural parade through Judaea. As Ben-Hur watches the scene, he accidentally dislodges a loose tile from his house, which hits the leader. Messala, enraged, ensures that Ben-Hur is harshly sentenced without trial and that his mother and sister are imprisoned. The tale that follows explains how Ben-Hur is relieved of his sentence and returns to a life of prosperity while looking for his family and seeking revenge against Messala. Amid it all, Ben-Hur becomes a follower of the carpenter who he believes will make war against the Romans — although he learns that earthly revenge is not the way of Christ.
The story begins with Wallace's account of the biblical wise men meeting and following the star to Christ. Later, he provides an account of Mary and Joseph seeking a birthplace for Jesus. Ben-Hur, his friends and his family live in the time of Jesus' ministry and crucifixion, and they follow the Savior, initially anticipating His creation of an earthly kingdom to overthrow Rome. In Wallace's account, Ben-Hur witnesses and tells others about Jesus' miracles, including how He heals Ben-Hur's mother and sister of leprosy. Ben-Hur is the man who offers the wine-vinegar to Christ on the Cross.
Arrius, a Roman officer at sea, listens sympathetically to Ben-Hur's story, even though Ben-Hur is merely a prisoner on rowing duty. Arrius not only frees Ben-Hur, but also adopts him and leaves him his fortune. Simonides, a former servant of Ben-Hur's father, cautiously investigates Ben-Hur to ensure he's who he claims to be. When Ben-Hur proves himself, Simonides (the doting father of Ben-Hur's future wife, Esther) offers to give Ben-Hur all the wealth he's accumulated through his stewardship of the Hur family money. Ben-Hur's mother demonstrates a spirit of love and protection with regard to her children. She reminds them of God's goodness even in the most desperate circumstances. Messala attempts to destroy the Hur family by using his Roman power and influence.
Other Belief Systems
Frequent references are made to idol worship, gods, goddesses and other pagan beliefs and worship practices of the time. Pagan characters often use exclamations involving the gods, such as "O Bacchus!" or "By Apollo." Fortunetelling is commonly practiced at the Grove of Daphne, a temple.
The words a-- and b--tard occur a few times.
The text mentions orgies at the temple in the Grove of Daphne, but provides no other detail.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- A key theme in this story is revenge. Initially, Ben-Hur is driven by his desire to avenge his sister's and mother's "deaths."
What changes Ben-Hur's perspective on vengeance?
What does the Bible say about revenge?
- What turns the friendly relationship between Ben-Hur and Messala into a bitter rivalry?
Have you ever struggled with a friend because one (or both) of you developed a new belief system?
How did you handle this?
- What did Ben-Hur believe about Christ and His purpose?
What event makes him believe otherwise?
- Why doesn't Amrah, a former servant of the Hur family, tell Ben-Hur when she discovers that his mother and sister are alive?
What makes her change her mind?
- What happens to Messala in the end?
- What makes Arrius interested in Ben-Hur?
- What lessons can we learn from the way Ben-Hur acted, even as a prisoner?
- How is life in the Grove of Daphne like life in America?
Do you see any behaviors or ways of thinking that seem similar?
- What do you think of Wallace's account of the Crucifixion?
How is this account different to or the same as the way you have heard it before?
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