Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is a novel by Lew Wallace published by Harper & Brothers on November 12, 1880, and considered “the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century”. It became a best-selling American novel, surpassing Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) in sales. The book also inspired other novels with biblical settings and was adapted for the stage and motion picture productions.
The story recounts in descriptive detail the adventures of Judah Ben-Hur, a fictional Jewish prince from Jerusalem who is enslaved by the Romans at the beginning of the 1st century and becomes a charioteer and a Christian. Running in parallel with Judah’s narrative is the unfolding story of Jesus, who comes from the same region and is a similar age. The novel reflects themes of betrayal, conviction, and redemption, with a revenge plot that leads to a story of love and compassion.
After witnessing the Crucifixion, Judah recognizes that Christ’s life stands for a goal quite different from revenge. Judah becomes Christian, inspired by love and the talk of keys to a kingdom greater than any on earth. The novel concludes with Judah’s decision to finance the Catacomb of San Calixto in Rome, where Christian martyrs could be buried and venerated.
Check out Morgan Freeman’s reflection:
There have been other retellings of the story.
- Ben-Hur (play), a play that debuted on Broadway in New York City on November 29, 1899.
- Ben Hur (1907 film), a silent film short.
- Ben-Hur (1925 film), an MGM silent film starring Ramon Novarro; it premiered in New York City on December 20, 1925.
- Ben-Hur (1959 film), an MGM sound film starring Charlton Heston; it premiered in New York City on November 18, 1959.
- Ben Hur (2003 film), an animated direct-to-video film featuring the voice of Charlton Heston
- Ben Hur Live, a 2009 stage adaptation
- Ben Hur (TV miniseries), a 2010 adaptation