Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace

With Easter coming up I figured it was high time I did a review on a book centered around the Lord Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Since we’ve already done The Robe I decided on Ben-Hur.
I read Ben-Hur after watching the movie (when I was about 15 or 16) and, at first, it was really slow going. The book is divided into 6 smaller books which are then divided into chapters.
The first book follows the magi as they follow the star. And, while it’s rather boring, it’s essential to the story. It took me about a week to get through the beginning, but the rest is sooo worth it.
On a side note, I found it really mushy in some spots.
One more side note, I found it really cool that Lew Wallace was a general in the Civil War (albeit Union) and how he seemed to draw from his own experiences to form the storyline. When he led the troops in the wrong direction at Shiloh, he and his family suffered as it damaged his reputation. In the story, it seems to correlate with Judah’s accidentally dropping the tile and the results thereof.
Last side note- it was also intriguing to me that the author was related to John Paul Jones.
Now for what I liked:
#1. 500+ pages. I love long books so very much.
#2. Judah. The story begins (after the magi) with 16 year old Judah meeting with his lifelong friend, Messala. Messala had been away for 5 years, and Judah is disturbed to see the change that has taken place. Messala is everything a Roman should be and, after a short argument, the two part, bitter enemies.
#3. Messala. Messala carries his hatred a bit too far, lies about Judah, and thus becomes a mortal enemy. I do like the way Wallace crafted this part.
#4. Tirzah and her mother show up only a few times. It was really sad when they found Judah and couldn’t talk to him. The leper camp wasn’t too appealing either.
#5. Amrah is such a good servant. She takes care of Tirzah and her mother so well. The promise she must make to them is bitterly hard.
#6. Wallace has a way with words. My two favorite parts are in The Accident to Gratus and No. 60.
In The Accident to Gratus , after Messala betrays Judah, when Judah puts off boyhood and becomes a man. That was a great paradox (I’ve been trying to find a way to use that word).
And in No. 60 as the ship is about to go into battle, the heart-wrenching moment when the slaves are chained to the ship. Wallace did a good job of drawing that moment out as long as possible.
#7. I wished that, somehow, Judah could have saved all the other slaves, At least he saved the tribune, right (definitely worked out for him)?
#8. Simonides. I felt so sorry for him, I can imagine his not wanting to trust Judah after all he’d been through.
#9. Esther. For me, my favorite part about Esther is in the end, she’s so kind to Iras.
#10. Iras. Yeesh, this is where the mushiness comes in. I almost found it hard to believe she was capable of betrayal.
#11. Poor Belthasar, he was so kind. How did he get such a daughter?
#12. Ilderim made a great coach. 😉
#13. This is getting really long, so let me wrap this up. When Tirzah and her mother get healed- I love it when an author takes unknown people in the Bible and gives them names and character.
#14. I probably left out a bunch of stuff, but for my last point, I would say the race itself was exciting. Though I did feel a trifle sorry for Messala.

I give it four books altogether, and here’s why:
#1. I did not quite agree with Wallace’s description of Mary and Jesus. Not that I really know exactly what they looked like but, considering their heritage, I think it’s safe to assume they didn’t look like that.
#2. Yikes! Iras was a tad vengeful in the end. Maybe Messala deserved it, then again….Romans 12:19, anyone?
#3. Mushy- Is that really necessary?

I think that’s all for this book. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a Biblical/historical novel.

This book is a favorite of mine and it has become a tradition for me to read it (along with the Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas) every Easter. Perfect time to do a review, right?
My copy of Ben-Hur was done by Focus on the Family with an excellent forward by ? The forward talked about Lew Wallace’s personal history, which I found quite intriguing. I thought it was neat to see how Wallace modeled Esther after his mother.
But the neatest thing ever was the fact that Wallace, when he was governor of ? , he met Billy the Kid (famous outlaw) to make a deal with him: if the Kid would testify against former outlaw friends who had been caught, then the governor would write off whatever the Kid had on his record. The Kid agreed. You’ll have to look up the rest of the story to find out what happened. 🙂 I just thought that was really neat.
Anyway, back to Ben-Hur. This book is slow starting out, but worth the work and wait.
So here’s why I liked it:
Lew Wallace knew how to describe people and places (while descriptions may seem long and drawn out, hang in there, it’ll get good soon!).
It’s a classic.
No filthy language.
How much poor Judah loved his family.
Amrah’s love for the Hur family.
The story of how Judah became Arrius’ son. Now that’s cool.
My absolute favorite part in the book is (no, not because I’m a cruel person but because I understand all too well how accidents happen and could see quite clearly the look on Judah’s face in my imagination) the part when the tile falls from the roof.
I really liked the bit where Judah finds his family again.
Wallace makes you feel for the characters (except Messala, the only feeling you have for him is to punch him and give him what for).
It has a good ending.

I didn’t really appreciate:
The gushy, mushy romance scenes. Blah.
Some of the descriptions of the women and what they were wearing.

Excepting that, it was good.

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