Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ by Lew Wallace (1827 - 1905)

Ben-Hur: A Tale of

by Lew Wallace (1827
- 1905)

Type of Work:

Historical romantic fiction


Judea and Rome; during the time of Jesus


Principal Characters

Judah Bur-Hur, a Jew

Ben-Hur\'s mother and sister


Messala, a Roman citizen; Judah\'s childhood
friend, and later hated enemy

Arrius, a Roman commander

Simonides, an aged Hur servant

Mallach, Simonides\' servant

Story Overveiw
(The tale begins with an account of Jesus
humble birth, the adoration of the infant by three sages from the East,
and the child\'s delivery from the hands of King Herod.)

Several years following Jesus\' birth, Judah

Ben-Hur was one day on the streets speaking to his childhood companion,

Messala. Messala had grown up in Judea, but five years earlier had left
to study in Rome. He had changed considerably in those years, and since
his return Judah had found it difficult to speak with him. A wall had been
cast up between them. Now, while Messala bragged, Judah grew more and more
angry at his friend\'s new arrogance. Finally he erupted: "You have given
me suffering today by convincing me that we can never be the friends we
have been - never!" Thus they parted.

Alone in his room, Judah brooded. Although

Messala\'s attitudes were insufferable, there was some justification to
his pride. At least Messala now had a military profession; Judah had nothing.

After much thought, Judah concluded that he himself would go to Rome, learn
the arts of war, and return to drive the Romans out of his land. He would
tell only Tirzah, his sister, of his plans.

Days later, Judah and Tirzah climbed to
their rooftop to watch as the new - and much hated Procurator of Judea,

Valerius Gratus, passed with his region on his way into the city. Jews
lined the road to hurl insults at Gratus. As Judah leaned out to catch
a glimpse of the Procurator, his hand accidentally displaced a loose tile,
and he lunged out, trying to catch it. This act made it look as though

Judah had pitched the tile like a missile - which unerringly flew to its
mark. Gratus "fell from the seat as though dead." . In seconds, Roman soldiers
had forced their way into the house and pinned the youth to the floor.

Then Judah heard a familiar voice: "That is he!" Messala, dressed as an
officer of the legion, pretended not to recognize Judah. "You have him,"
he sneered. "And that is his mother; yonder is his sister. You have his
whole family. "Judah watched as the Romans led his mother and sister away
and confiscated their property.

As the soldiers moved on toward the coastal
village of Nazareth, people wondered at their youthful, half-naked prisoner.

When the Romans finally paused at the town well, "The prisoner sank down
in the dust of the road." A young man stepped forward to offer the prisoner
a drink. As the stranger laid his hand upon Judah\'s shoulder, Judah looked
up - into "a face he never forgot." His vengeful spirit "melted under the
stranger\'s look and became as a child\'s .... And so, for the first time,

Judah and the son of Mary met and parted."

Three years later, Judah was an oarsman
on a Roman galley commanded by the respected and able Arrius, who was leading
an armada to rid the Mediterranean of pirates. As a "connoisseur of men
physically," Arrius enjoyed descending below deck to watch the rowers.

On this voyage, he was immensely impressed by one young man among the exhausted,
emaciated slaves. The youth was tall, and "his limbs, upper and nether,
were singularly perfect." Moreover, he rowed with a certain "harmony."

When Arrius queried him about his background, Judah revealed that he was
the son of a prince and merchant of Jerusalem, from the house of Hur. Arrius
could not fathom that such a youth would attempt to assassinate a Roman

Presently the Roman ships overtook pirate
vessels and the battle began. Ben-Hur could hear the clamor above deck
and could smell the smoke of flaming arrows and "the scent of roasting
human flesh." Pirates had boarded the battered ship and water was flooding
the cabin. After finally escaping his chains, Ben-Hur made his way out
to sea. As he swam desperately away from the turmoil of death and destruction,
he paused to help a drowning Roman - Arrius.

As the two men - slave and master, Jew
and Roman -awaited rescue, Arrius promised Judah, "If . . . we get well
out of this peril, I will do thee such favor as becometh a Roman who hath
power and opportunity to prove his gratitude." And, indeed, when the