Author: Carol Wallace
Major Themes: Galley Slaves, Jesus, Zealots
Synopsis: After accidentally harming the new Roman Procurator during his entry parade into Jerusalem, Ben-Hur is sent off to the galleys and his mother and sister disappear.
Many years ago—probably somewhere around 25 years, in fact—I read Ben-Hur. I remember finding it a fascinating story, but don’t remember much else about it other than the famous chariot race and the riots in Jerusalem. More recently, I tried reading it to my boys, but after summarizing the first half dozen or so chapters in a sentence or two each, and skipping them otherwise, I gave up. What a wordy book! Then, even more recently, I learned that Lew Wallace’s great-great-granddaughter has taken her ancestor’s masterpiece and rewritten it for modern readers. I was excited to get my hands on a copy and check it out for myself.
I find myself with mixed feelings about Ben-Hur now. The story is very exciting, and Carol Wallace has done a superb job of keeping the action moving. I could hardly put the book down during the several chapters each about the sea battle and the chariot race. I am really wondering, though, how much was left out of the original—guess what is on my reading list for sometime soon!
As far as historical value, I would say that Ben-Hur probably gives a fairly good picture of the time of Christ and the conflicts between the Romans and the Jews. Tensions were high; the Jews wanted desperately to rule their own affairs again and the Romans were determined to keep the Jews, and other people, in subjection. The Jews were watching for a hero to free them from the Romans, and many believed Jesus would be that Messiah. Puzzlingly, however, he didn’t seem at all interested in helping them revolt; instead, he preaching and healed. Balthasar the Egyptian, one of the Magi who appeared in Jerusalem many years ago searching for the King who had just been born, is the only one in Ben-Hur’s life who seems to understand that Jesus has a different mission than everyone else expects.
There are many plots intertwined through the story; Ben-Hur’s conflict with the Romans, his search for his family, his relationship with Esther, Balthasar’s daughter Iras and her pursuit of Ben-Hur, and finally, his interactions with Jesus. You will probably find it hard to put this book down until you’ve finished! I appreciated the way Jesus was portrayed. Lew Wallace was very careful to only have Jesus speaking the words that are recorded in the Gospels, and there is only one minor incident involving Jesus that isn’t in the Bible.
I received a free ecopy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
WARNING: Chapters 7-9 describe a sea battle, including some pretty horrific—but probably accurate—descriptions and a lot of violence. Chapter 21 describes Iras seducing Ben-Hur; this continues throughout the book every time they meet. Chapter 31 shows Ben-Hur killing a man. Chapter 40 shows a fight between Ben-Hur and a Roman, in which the Roman is killed.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults