First published in 1880, this novel by Lew Wallace begins with the 3 wise men: Gaspar the Greek, Melchior the Hindu, and Balthasar the Egyptian; following the star to Bethlehem and witness the birth of a King. Interesting to read about their origins and why they come to follow the star. Then the story moves forward 21 years, when Ben-Hur (the name means 'Son of Hur'. His family calls him 'Judah'.) is having an argument with his childhood friend Messala, and ends with conclusion that Romans and Jews are very different. They cannot be what they were anymore. Next is the accident, when a roofing tile falls from Ben-Hur's house and almost kills the new procurator of Judea, Valerius Gratus, who is having a parade below. Massala himself points out Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur is seized and sent to hard labour, they think in a year he will die. His mother & sister are sent to jail. After 3 years as a galley slave, he meets Quintus Arrius the duumvir, saves him and is adopted as his son. 5 years later, Ben-Hur returns to Judea as a rich man and meets his father's loyal servant Simonides and his beautiful daughter Esther, whom later he will marry. He beats Messala in a chariot race and cripples him. He searches for his mother and sister. Meanwhile, after meeting one of the 3 wise men, Balthasar, Ben-Hur's view about the Messiah begins to change. He and Simonides believe that the Messiah will free them from the Romans and both use their immense wealth to train people as soldiers so that when the Nazarene arrives in Jerusalem, His way to become the King of The Jews will be easy. However, when Ben-Hur sees the Nazarene arrested, he asks Him to say the word and he will help him; but He doesn't say anything. Ben-Hur realizes that Balthasar is right, and that His Kingdom is not in this world.
The language is not difficult and Wallace gave rich descriptions on the culture, the buildings, the clothes, etc. One of my favourite parts is when the Nazarene heals Ben-Hur's mother and sister. Being lepers is the same as dead, you cannot get near to people and if someone comes near you have to shout "Unclean! Unclean!". The Nazarene, however, is not afraid to be near them and look into their eyes with pity. The situation itself is like drinking from a fresh spring in the middle of hot desert. In my high-school days I had a book with stories from the Bible, and one of my favourite parts was also the scene with Jesus and a leper. This leper heard that He would be in a city and he took all risks to meet him. A city was not a place for a leper, and people shouted at him, spat at him, stoned him; but this Man greeted him as if he was His friend. The scene was very moving. Like in this illustration by Alexander Bida (titled The Leper), not only He didn't tell the man to go away, but He also was not afraid to touch the poor man, and makes him well.