Ben-Hur: Then and Now

In honor of a few simultaneous events going on, I changed this month’s film last minute to Ben-Hur. With it being Paschal tide, and with the announcement of the remake, I felt compelled to share my love for this classic. Although I’m a little upset that they would even consider remaking this film, my cousin did point out to me that the 1959 Charlton Heston film is technically a remake as well from the 1925 Ramon Novarro version, which was actually my grandfather’s favorite. But you have to admit, Charlton Heston’s old school, Shakespearean approach is why you watch this movie…and who could ever do a better job of that chariot race? You simply can’t! Not with all the CGI in the world.  


If you haven’t seen any version and/or simply don’t know the story, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, was a novel written by Lew Wallace (1827-1905), a Union general in the American Civil War. A surprise to many people but makes sense as you quickly learn this is a story about two sides that are vehemently opposed. 


But going back to the film, it seemed appropriate to talk about it now, being 33 years old myself, the same age of Jesus and Judah Ben-Hur in the story, and with the endless wars between every group imaginable of the era, and right now.


Judah Ben-Hur and Marsalla are friends, more like brothers who have grown up together and love each other. They are however, a Jew and a Roman. As they become men, the obvious difference in their lineage puts a strain on their friendship, but the real betrayal comes when Marsalla puts Judah to the task of informing him which Jewish “traitors” are plotting to overthrow the Roman occupation in Israel.  This, of course, leads to a series of tragic events that ultimately leads to a “fight to the death” between the two men in a chariot race. 


After Judah’s mother and sister have been imprisoned and Judah is sold as a slave to row battle ships in the Roman Navy, he becomes hell bent on revenge. However, there are two men who have an internal impact on him. The first is his Roman commander of the ship he rows, named Quintus Arrius. Quintus is intrigued with Judah, sensing he has an interesting story that led him to the ship and can see his strength of character.

Seeing the son he lost in him, Quintus orders to have Judah unchained in the event the ship is attacked so he could escape. When the ship goes down and all is lost except the two men on a raft at sea, Judah prevents the commander from killing himself. At this point, they are neither Roman nor Jew, but two men in great need of being “saved.” Literally and metaphorically. 


Quintus practically adopts Judah and gives him all the honors and opportunities he would his own son. At this point, it would appear that Judah has come out on top. However, the seed of revenge still lives in him for what Marsalla did to his family…he is still very much a slave to his hatred and fear. His emotions drive him to take on the challenge of the life threatening chariot races he took part in while in Rome, only this time, he would be racing against his enemy. Although he does not purposely cause direct damage to Marsalla, Judah jumps at the chance to “beat” him, in some way. Any way he can. 

The second man, who brings an even greater change in Judah, is actually talked about very little, but you know him right away-Jesus of Nazareth. Would the story be different between Judah and Marsalla if he had met Jesus first? We would hope so, but thankfully it is his new found faith in Jesus that saves his family from death.  

1959 Ben Hur 3

As we attempt to avoid the landmines of the presidential campaigns, we still run into the increasingly heated reactions of the different political parties and interest groups. I could call it “debates” but you can hardly call riots, detentions, mud-slinging , Facebook banning, and the like, “debates.” We have become enslaved to our own emotions by allowing ourselves to hate, to fear, and that insatiable need to beat someone and be “right” vs. doing what is right. 

We need God between us. As one of my favorite authors John Eldridge wrote in his daily prayer “I only allow the love of God and only the spirit of God between us.”  Christians today can’t even agree if observing the Death and Resurrection of Christ is appropriate for heaven’s sake! Luckily, there are those out there who know that Jesus is the one who binds us all together. Like Quintus and Judah…like Judah and Jesus. We are neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, young or old, democrat or republican, we are ALL in need of that saving grace that allows us to LIVE together in this world. Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus

When Jesus died and resurrected, everything changed. So, in memory of that glorious Resurrection during this Paschal season, celebrate that change with such a joyful ruckus, it drowns out all the bickering of those who have forgotten that his victory is won.