Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Written by Carol Wallace
Review by India Edghill

As a Roman procurator rides through Jerusalem, a loose tile falls from a rooftop and hits him. This accident leads to the Jewish Judah Ben-Hur’s betrayal by his Roman friend, Messala; his mother and sister are dragged away, and he’s sent to the galleys. But instead of dying chained to an oar, he survives to become the adopted son of a noble Roman, reclaim his fortune, to find his mother and sister, and find true love. And yes, to triumph over the vicious Messala in a chariot race. But without the touch of the man some call the Messiah, Ben-Hur’s mother and sister, now lepers, will die.

Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace is one of the all-time best-selling novels, never out of print since it was first published in 1880. This modernization, written by Wallace’s great-great-granddaughter, aims to make the story accessible to today’s readers.  It succeeds in that aim, although it feels oddly unbalanced. So I got a copy of the original Ben-Hur to compare the versions. There’s no denying the modern version is easier to read, and moves the story along at a cracking pace. However, a lot is lost with this update, and most of what has been lost is the Christ – including an extremely long prologue about the three Wise Men (or Magi) and their search for the infant Jesus. Since the iconic chariot race is nowhere near the end of the story, the last portion of the book, in which Ben-Hur and his new wife become Christians and decide to use his immense fortune to support fellow followers of Jesus, seems tacked on. Carol Wallace has written a readable and compelling modernization, but you’ll only really know why it’s subtitled “A Tale of the Christ” if you read the original.