Ben Hur

This tag is associated with 6 posts

Really Recommended Posts 8/26/16

postHello, dear readers. I have another round of Really Recommended Posts to share with you this week. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

The Knower and the Known- Interview with Stephen E. Parrish– Stephen Parrish is a Christian philosopher who has written a wonderful tome on philosophy of mind. Here’s an interview with Parrish about the central themes of the book. See also my review of the book. I’ve read it a few times now, and it is phenomenal.

Ben Hur: An Epic Movie of Christian Forgiveness in an Empire of Hate– A great look at the Christian themes that can be found in the latest iteration of the classic story of “Ben Hur.” Also check out my own reflections on the film.

Obama’s Pardons– Whatever one’s political affiliation, I believe this post from Thinking Christian will be a thought-provoking read. It is by someone who was incarcerated, and speaks to the real injustice in some portions of the United States’ criminal justice system.

Science and the Optimistic Naturalist– Is it truly rational to punt to possible future scientific understanding to answer what are currently understood as metaphysical questions?

“Ben Hur” – Gods, Faith, Baptism, and Forgiveness

ben-hur-2016I had the chance to go see the new “Ben Hur” movie this past weekend. I think it is fair to say that I’m a huge fan of Ben Hur in many forms. I read the novel (at least) annually. I watch the Charlton Heston version of the film several times a year. It is one of the most utterly compelling plots I know of. It’s a tale of betrayal and revenge that turns into much more than that. (Be sure to see the Links at the end for several more of my posts about the book and other movie.) Here, I will look at this particular retelling of the story of Ben Hur and the worldview themes found therein. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Gods and Faith

A contrast of faiths is found throughout the movie, yet it isn’t just a two-sided picture. We see Messala’s devotion to Roman gods early on in the film, as he prays to those gods for the safety of his adopted brother, Judah Ben Hur (in this version, Messala was orphaned and adopted by the House of Hur). Judah’s mother chastises him, saying that they serve a different God under her household. At a later point, the Hurs are celebrating a Jewish festival, and Messala acts somewhat left out. Judah Ben Hur asks him about this and comments that wine knows no specific god (implying that Messala can at least enjoy himself with the festal wine). Judah is indeed portrayed as something of a skeptic throughout much of the film, and that’s where we see some of the most subtle but intriguing aspects of the journey of faith found here.

Judah’s journey includes doubts about God, and he even speaks these in one of his encounters with Jesus. He asks Jesus how, if God has a plan that includes us, we are any better than slaves. Jesus replies in a way that is reminiscent of so many of his responses in the Bible, nodding to Esther, a former slave who at this point is Judah’s wife, and saying “ask her.” Cynically, this could be interpreted as a non-answer, but it also shows a similarity in fashion to the way Jesus often answered such questions that were posed not as genuine questions but as challenges. He turned the question inward and forced him to confront his own life.

Judah’s ultimate turning point comes after his defeat of Messala through a chariot race in the circus. He  stands before the crucified savior and he hears Jesus utter the words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Judah breaks down and weeps, coming to a full realization that those words are not just empty: they are for him and about him. It is at the cross that Judah comes to a realization of his own inadequacy and need for forgiveness, and, yes, true faith.

Baptism

After the cross, the Hur family is healed by the water that mingles with the blood of Christ, just as in the earlier film version. This water washing away the dead flesh of leprosy is a perfect allegory for baptism, which saves through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). To see the water wash away the physical ailment here is a great allegory for baptism.

benhur-esther

Certainly one of the most interesting characters in the film.

Women in Ben Hur

The film does a pretty phenomenal job portraying women. First, there are women in the garden with Jesus when the Romans come to take him away. I think this almost certainly would have been the case, given how many women were close followers and later proclaimers of Christ. It was good to see the filmmakers decided not to skip over them. Second, the character of Esther was just as the image I shared here describes her- a defender, a confidant, and a believer. She remains faithful throughout the movie, despite having a few flaws.

Forgiveness

Perhaps the central theme in the movie is forgiveness. Indeed, they took some liberty with the plot to highlight this theme more effectively, leaving Messala alive and vengeful towards the end, only to forgive Judah as Judah forgives him. It is a beautiful scene, though it feels a tad rushed. The book doesn’t have this scene, though it also highlights forgiveness. Once again, it is clear that this is a Christian theme shown through the film.

Conclusion

“Ben Hur” is different from the Charlton Heston version of the story in several key ways, and diverges radically from the book on a few key points. That said, it is one of the most Christian messages I have seen recently in any movie. It has many wonderful portrayals of worldview found therein, and it does so in a much more intriguing way than almost any other film I know of recently.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic– I look at the 1959 epic film from a worldview perspective. How does the movie reflect the deeply Christian worldview of the book?

What About Those Who Haven’t Heard? – Part 1 of a case study on religious pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”– I examine two of the most popular answers to the question about those who have not heard about Jesus (and their eternal fate) from the book.

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace– The post introducing this entire series on “Ben Hur.” It has links to all the posts in the series.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

What about those who haven’t heard? – Part 1 of a Case Study on Religious Pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”

ben-hur

A beautiful cover for an edition of Ben Hur- I was unable to locate the exact copyright information.


Ben Hur 
is one of my all-time favorite novels. There are many issues related to worldview raised throughout the novel. I have started a series which outlines some of the ways it interacts with

Selection from the Book

Each post in this series will begin with a segment from the book itself. Here, we jump into a scene in which one of the wise men is telling the story of how he came to be in a desert, meeting up with the others. He is Greek. I have abridged the segment to focus on the areas in which this series is most interested, namely, the ways God interacts with humanity.

“I am Gaspar, son of Cleanthes the Athenian…

…”It happens that two of our [Greece’s] philosophers, the very greatest of the many [reference to Plato and Aristotle, presumably], teach, one the doctrine of a Soul in every man, and its Immortality; the other the doctrine of One God, infinitely just. From the multitude of subjects about which the schools were disputing, I separated them, as alone worth the labor of solution; for I thought there was a relation between God and the soul as yet unknown…

“In the northern part of my country–in Thessaly… there is a mountain famous as the home of the gods… Olympus is its name. Thither I betook myself. I found a cave [nearby]… there I dwelt, giving myself up to meditation–no, I gave myself up to waiting for what every breath was a prayer–for revelation. Believing in God, invisible yet supreme, I also believed it possible so to yearn for him with all my soul that he would take compassion and give me answer.

“…One day I saw a man flung overboard from a ship sailing by. He swam ashore. I received and took care of him. He was a Jew, learned in the history and laws of his people; and from him I came to know that the God of my prayers did indeed exist; and had been for ages their lawmaker, ruler, and king. What was that but the Revelation I dreamed of? My faith had not been fruitless; God answered me!”

“As he does all who cry to him with such faith,” said the [Hindu].

“But, alas!” the Egyptian added, “how few are there wise enough to know when he answers them!”

“That was not all,” the Greek continued. “The man so sent to me told me more. He said the prophets who, in the ages which followed the first revelation, walked and talked with God, declared he would come again…

“It is true… the man told me that as God and the revelation of which he spoke had been for the Jews alone, so it would be again… ‘Had he nothing for the rest of the world?’ I asked. ‘No,’ was the answer, given in a proud voice–‘No, we are his chosen people.’ The answer did not crush my hope. Why should such a God limit his love and benefaction to one land, and, as it were, to one family? …When the Jew was gone, and I was alone again, I chastened my soul with a new prayer–that I might be permitted to see the King when he was come, and worship him. One night I sat by the door of my cave trying to get nearer the mysteries of my existence, knowing which is to know God; suddenly, on the sea below me, or rather in the darkness that covered its face, I saw a star begin to burn; slowly it arose and drew nigh, and stood over the hill and above my door, so that its light shone full upon me. I fell down, and slept, and in my dream I heard a voice say:

“‘O Gaspar! Thy faith hath conquered! Blessed art thou! With two others, come from the uttermost parts of the earth, thou shalt see Him that is promised, and be a witness for him, and the occasion of testimony in his behalf. In the morning arise, and go meet them, and keep trust in the Spirit that shall guide thee.’

“And in the morning I awoke with the Spirit as a light within me surpassing that of the sun…”

This passage can be found in Ben Hur, Book I, Chapter III. It may be read in its entirety online here (it is public domain due to expired copyright).

An illustration from the Ben Hur novel. I was unable to find a specific copyright.

An illustration from the Ben Hur novel. I was unable to find a specific copyright.

Notes on Religion from the Selection

Christians have proposed many different answers to one of the most pressing questions, itself having been pondered for centuries: “What about those who have never heard?” The question is regarding salvation–can those who have never heard be saved? But it isn’t only that. It might be nuanced in many ways. For example, are there any who have not heard what is required to be saved who would respond if they did hear it? Though the answer initially may seem obvious, it must be thought over carefully before one simply says yes or no.

In this passage from Lew Wallace, we find not one, but two separate answers to this question combined into one account. The answers are: direct divine revelation, and sending a witness. (I have dubbed them this, but the titles summarize common proposals–see below.)

Sending a Witness

One of the answers Christians have given to the question of those who have not heard and their salvific status is pretty straightforward: there simply are none who have not heard. The claim seems rather extraordinary, for, after all, entire swathes of humanity never had contact with any Christian missionary for vast periods of time. Yet, this answer to the question suggests that God sends a witness to anyone who would respond. Thus, if there is someone in a place where Christianity had not yet reached who would have responded to a missionary, God somehow sets it up such that that person hears from someone about Christ.

In the example from Ben Hur above, we see that the Greek was looking for the divine–hoping for a response. Thus, through providential act, a Jew washed up on shore to instruct him about the truth.

It seems this solution to the problem of religious pluralism and those who have not heard is unsatisfactory. There are many reasons for this. First, it supports a rather dim view of other cultures through a system that is ultimately culturally imperialist. Second, it seems to stretch credulity, for it would follow from this position that either there have only been very few outside of the parts of the world where Christianity is dominant who would have responded to the Gospel anyway (see previous point) or that there are innumerable instances of shipwrecks washing missionaries on shore in far off places all over the world to wherever someone might respond to the Gospel. Either of these seems unsatisfactory.

However, it is possible that the “Sending a Witness” answer could be part of an answer to the questions posed here. It just does not seem capable of carrying all the weight on its own.

Direct Divine Revelation

Like the previous answer, the “direct divine revelation” solution to the problem of religious pluralism and specifically those who have not heard is one which ultimately results in the answer: None have not heard. For, if someone would respond to the Gospel, God simply reveals Christ through direct revelation. In the selection above, we see that a dream reveals the Holy Spirit to Gaspar.

This answer to the questions raised above is perhaps more satisfactory than the previous one, but difficulties remain. The primary one is that although several firsthand instances of this type of thing happening are found, they do not seem to be as ubiquitous as they might need to be in order to adequately account for all those who have not heard. Again, this may be part of a larger multi-level response, but I don’t think it can stand on its own.

Conclusion

Wallace provides here an overview of two of the traditional answers to the question of those who have not heard about Jesus Christ. Neither solution seems entirely satisfactory, though either or both might be integrated into a holistic view of witnessing and missions. We will explore other aspects of Wallace’s exploration of religious pluralism

Although I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I think that John Sanders’ book, No Other Name is perhaps the best work I have read for providing background into the different proposed solutions for the question of those who have not heard about Christ. It would be a good read for those wishing to explore the topic further.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace– The post introducing this entire series on “Ben Hur.” It has links to all the posts in the series.

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic– I look at the 1959 epic film from a worldview perspective. How does the movie reflect the deeply Christian worldview of the book?

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Religious Pluralism- A case study from “Ben Hur” by Lew Wallace- Series Introduction

ben-hur-novel

Ben Hur is one of the most influential novels of all time, selling millions in the 19th and 20th centuries and noted as admired by several U.S. Presidents, among others. Reactions to the novel are varied–an interesting thing to examine of itself (some critics saying that it would only appeal to the “unlettered” person, while the general and broad appeal of the novel speaks against that same notion). Its enduring popularity can be attested to by the fact that it continues to be adapted to film.

I’m going to write a series of posts exploring religious pluralism through the lens of the novel, Ben Hur.

Method

The opening scene of the book  describes the wise men–those who would later visit Christ–meeting up in the desert. In this scene, each wise man–from a different part of the ancient world–shares his own story of how he became a believer.

Each post will start with a selection from this scene. Then, I will analyze what was said therein from a theological and apologetic viewpoint. The goal will be to examine what is said therein to see its value for Christians today in interfaith dialogue.

 

Links

What About Those Who Haven’t Heard? – Part 1 of a case study on religious pluralism from Lew Wallace’s “Ben Hur”– I examine two of the most popular answers to the question about those who have not heard about Jesus (and their eternal fate) from the book.

Links for the series will be posted here. This post will serve as the home page for the series.

2015: The Year’s Best Books, My Reading, Blogs, and More!

Another year has passed more quickly than I could have ever imagined. I’d like to share with you my reading for the year, as well as my awards for books, movies, and blogs. Please let me know about your own reading, movie-watching, and the like this year. I’d love to read about what you were up to last year and what books moved you or taught you much.

Books

The books of the year are based off my reading this year; not on whether they were actually released this year. The categories for InterVarsity Press (IVP) and Crossway, however, are from this year.

Theology book of the year

Flame of Yahweh by Richard Davidson- This book is a massive wealth of information about sexuality in the Old Testament. Davidson analyzes an enormous number of texts to draw out the teaching on sexuality found therein. Davidson approaches the texts from what I would call a moderate egalitarian viewpoint, but he justifies this view directly from the text, with a particular emphasis on the creation account. Moreover, Davidson’s exposition of Song of Songs in particular is just phenomenal. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Philosophy book of the year

The Shape of the Past by John Warwick Montgomery- this book is a historiography book–it is a study of how we write and study history, and it is phenomenal. John Warwick Montgomery is one of those rare people who can touch on seemingly endless topics from a clearly informed perspective, and draw them together with breathless beauty. The first half of the book offers a major look at various historiographic perspectives of the past. The second half is a collection of essays, each of which as informative and wonderful as the next. The book was published originally in 1975, but it remains as brilliant as it ever was. John Warwick Montgomery is just phenomenal, and this book was heavy, but breathtaking. Here’s a quote from the book.

IVP Book of the Year

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss- A convicting read, Richard Twiss argues that we have failed Native Americans when it comes to spreading the Gospel. The book is full of moving stories and deep insights. It is beautiful and haunting. If you want to know more, read my review.

Crossway Book of the Year

Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke- John Newton is probably best known as the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” but Reinke highlights so much more about this amazing pastor in this interesting work. Read my review for more.

Fiction book of the Year

The Once and Future King by T.H. White – I’m embarassed to say this, but I actually owned this book once and got rid of it because I figured I wouldn’t actually enjoy it. Was I ever wrong. I picked it up at the library and was absolutely blown away. This classic novel about King Arthur was everything I expected it to be and so much more. I was particularly impressed by the amount of genuinely hilarious humor found throughout. I did not expect the depth it had, either. It was fantastic. Okay, I did read Ben Hur by means of audiobook this year, but I read that book annually because it is probably my favorite work of fiction ever, so it’s not really fair to put it in competition.

Best non-fiction, non-theology/philosophy

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander- think racism is no longer a problem in America? Think again. This book has an enormous amount of research showing how our allegedly colorblind criminal justice system has perpetuated a system of injustice.

Young Adult Novel of the Year

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper- A haunting novel about the colonial period in the United States. It is rare that I am as emotionally moved by a novel as I was in this one.

Most Anticipated Book of Next Year

Brandon Sanderson seems to me a well that I will not stop returning to. Ever. I’ve not worked through his whole body of work yet, but everything I’ve read from him is amazing. He consistently nails stunning plot twists in believable ways. Thus, Calamity, the third book of “The Reckoners” is my most anticipated book for next year. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and find out what happens next.

Movie

Best worldview movie of the year

Star Wars: The Force Awakens- No, I’m not just saying this because it is Star Wars (though part of me is saying precisely that). I selected this one because it has so much in it to discuss. I’m not going to spoil anything here, so be sure to head on over to my post on the movie to read more.

Blog

Blog of the Year

Christians for Biblical Equality– CBE continues to put out excellent articles week in and week out. Every new post is worth the time to read, and they have covered an enormous amount of ground with articles on neuroscience to articles on exegesis. This is a fantastic blog and well worth your time to read and subscribe to.

Reading List for 2015

The list starts at where I left off in 2014, when I first started keeping track.

  1. Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn – Finished 1/2/15
  2. 4 Views on Divine Providence edited by Dennis Jowers and Gundry – Finished 1/4/15
  3. Wind and Shadow by Kathy Tyers – Finished 1/6/15
  4. Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative – Finished 1/8/15
  5. Allegiant by Veronica Roth – Finished 1/10/15
  6. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll – Finished 1/12/15
  7. Salvation Applied by the Spirit by Robert Peterson – Finished 1/13/15
  8. Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn – Finished 1/13/15
  9. God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark – Finished 1/13/15
  10. Gender, Religion, and Diversity edited by Ursula King and Tina Beattie – Finished 1/15/15
  11. Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber – Finished 1/19/15
  12. Beyond the Control of God? Edited by Paul Gould – Finished 1/22/15
  13. By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber – Finished 1/24/15
  14. Religions of Mesoamerica by David Carrasco – Finished 1/25/15
  15. By Heresies Distressed by David Weber – Finished 1/28/15
  16. Eternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge – Finished 2/1/15
  17. Evolutionary Creation by Denis Lamoureux – Finished 2/1/15
  18. A Mighty Fortress by David Weber – Finished 2/6/15
  19. The New Evangelical Subordinationism edited Jowers and House – Finished 2/7/15
  20. Red Rising by Pierce Brown – Finished 2/9/15
  21. Creative Church Handbook by J. Scott McElroy – Finished 2/10/15
  22. Never to Live by Just B. Johnson – Finished 2/14/15
  23. Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice edited Kelly Kapic- Finished 2/16/15
  24. Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn – Finished 2/17/15
  25. The Dominant Culture by Martin Murphy – Finished 2/17/15
  26. Daystar by Kathy Tyers – Finished 2/23/15
  27. Give Them Grace by Jessica Thompson and Elyse Fitzpatrick – Finished 2/23/15
  28. Reinventing Jesus by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace – Finished 2/25/15
  29. How Firm a Foundation by David Weber – Finished 3/2/15
  30. Tamar’s Tears edited by Andrew Sloane – Finished 3/2/15
  31. Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert – Finished 3/4/15
  32. For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger – Finished 3/6/15
  33. Star Trek: New Frontier- The Quiet Place by Peter David – Finished 3/6/15
  34. The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs – Finished 3/7/15
  35. Three Views on the NT Use of the OT edited Berding and Lunde – Finished 3/10/15
  36. Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert – Finished 3/11/15
  37. A Matter of Days by Hugh Ross – Finished 3/12/15
  38. Midst Toil and Tribulation by David Weber – Finished 3/16/15
  39. The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John Walton – Finished 3/17/15
  40. Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 3/19/15
  41. Martin Luther on the Christian Life by Carl Trueman – Finished 3/21/15
  42. Golden Sun by Pierce Brown – Finished 3/22/15
  43. 4 Views on Church Government edited Cowan and Engle – Finished 3/23/15
  44. Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 3/25/15
  45. Faith, Freedom, and the Spirit by Paul D. Molnar – Finished 3/29/15
  46. Weaveworld by Clive Barker – Finished 4/1/5
  47. Presence and Thought by Hans Urs von Balthasar – Finished 4/1/5
  48. The Soul Hypothesis edited Mark Baker and Stewart Goetz – Finished 4/1/15
  49. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – Finished 4/3/15
  50. Science and Christianity: Four Views edited by Richard Carlson – Finished 4/7/15
  51. Like a Mighty Army by David Weber – Finished 4/9/15
  52. No Other Name by John Sanders – Finished 4/10/15
  53. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien – Finished 4/11/15
  54. Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 4/14/15
  55. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander – Finished 4/14/15
  56. Two Views of Hell by Edward Fudge and Robert Peterson – Finished 4/15/15
  57. Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis – Finished 4/17/15
  58. Oxygen by John Olson and Randy Ingermanson – Finished 4/18/15
  59. Bulls, Bears, and Golden Calves by John Stapleford – Finished 4/19/15
  60. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz – Finished 4/20/15
  61. Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom by William Lane Craig – Finished 4/21/15
  62. Dune: House Harkonnen by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 4/23/15
  63. Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer – Finished 4/26/15
  64. Mapping Apologetics by Brian Morley – Finished 4/28/15
  65. The Legend of Drizzt: Homeland by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 4/28/15
  66. The Legend of Drizzt: Exile by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 4/30/15
  67. The Legend of Drizzt: Sojourn by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 5/2/15
  68. Interpreting the Prophets by Aaron Chalmers – Finished 5/2/15
  69. Titan by Ben Bova – Finished 5/5/15
  70. Forever Odd by Dean Koontz – Finished 5/6/15
  71. God and Design edited by Neil Manson – Finished 5/11/15
  72. Dune: House Corrin by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 5/12/15
  73. Bound for the Promised Land by Oren Martin – Finished 5/13/15
  74. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – Finished 5/15/15
  75. Humans by Robert J. Sawyer – Finished 5/19/15
  76. Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer – Finished 5/21/15
  77. Brother Odd by Dean Koontz – Finished 5/28/15
  78. Venus by Ben Bova – Finished 5/30/15
  79. The Bible Story Handbook by John Walton and Kim Walton – Finished 5/31/15
  80. Cauldron of Ghosts by David Weber and Eric Flint – Finished 6/2/15
  81. Bismarck by Michael Tamelander and Niklas Zetterling – Finished 6/3/15
  82. Dune: The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Finished 6/5/15
  83. Star Wars: The Paradise Snare by A.C. Crispin – Finished 6/6/15
  84. The Legend of Drizzt: The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/11/15
  85. Renewing Moral Theology by Daniel Westberg – Finished 6/12/15
  86. The Legend of Drizzt: Streams of Silver by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/14/15
  87. The Legend of Drizzt: The Halfling’s Gem by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/17/15
  88. The Legend of Drizzt: The Legacy by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/21/15
  89. Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness – Finished 6/21/15
  90. The Legend of Drizzt: Starless Night by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/25/15
  91. The Legend of Drizzt: Siege of Darkness by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/25/15
  92. The Legend of Drizzt: Passage to Dawn by R.A. Salvatore – Finished 6/28/15
  93. Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark Yarhouse – Finished 7/9/15
  94. War God’s Oath by David Weber – Finished 7/9/15
  95. No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman – Finished 7/11/15
  96. Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither edited Halton and Gundry – Finished 7/13/15
  97. Double Eagle by Dan Abnett – Finished 7/14/15
  98. [John] Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke – Finished 7/18/15
  99. 4 Views on the Nature of the Atonement edited Beilby and Eddy – Finished 7/21/15
  100. We the Underpeople by Cordwainer Smith – Finished 7/22/15
  101. Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith – Finished 7/22/15
  102. Odd Hours by Dean Koontz – Finished 7/24/15
  103. Theology as Retrieval by W. David Buschart and Kent D. Eilers – Finished 7/25/15
  104. The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket – Finished 7/25/15
  105. The Ersatz Elevator by Lemony Snicket – Finished 7/27/15
  106. The Just City by Jo Walton – Finished 8/4/15
  107. The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket – Finished 8/5/15
  108. Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss – Finished 8/6/15
  109. Packer on the Christian Life by Sam Storms – Finished 8/9/15
  110. The War God’s Own by David Weber – Finished 8/10/15
  111. Talking Doctrine: [LDS] & Evngls in Conversation ed. Mouw & Millet- Finished 8/10/15
  112. Star Trek: New Frontier- Dark Allies by Peter David – Finished 8/11/15
  113. God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace – Finished 8/11/15
  114. Joy in the Journey by Steve & Sharol Hayner – Finished 8/14/15
  115. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett – Finished 8/17/15
  116. The Hostile Hotel by Lemony Snicket – Finished 8/18/15
  117. Hell Under Fire edited Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson – Finished 8/19/15
  118. How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test by David Marshall – Finished 8/20/15
  119. Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz – Finished 8/21/15
  120. Kris Longknife: Mutineer by Mike Shepherd – Finished 8/27/15
  121. Kris Longknife: Deserter by Mike Shepherd – Finished 8/25/15
  122. The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket – Finished 8/27/15
  123. Star Wars: The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin – Finished 8/28/15
  124. Winter of the World by Ken Follett- Finshed 9/4/15
  125. The Malestrom by Carolyn Custis Davis – Finished 9/4/15
  126. The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket – Finished 9/5/15
  127. Rediscovering Jesus by Capes, Reeves, and Richards – Finished 9/7/15
  128. Wind Rider’s Oath by David Weber – Finished 9/9/15
  129. The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton – Finished 9/11/15
  130. Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz – Finished 9/13/15
  131. Bavinck on the Christian Life by John Bolt – Finished 9/14/15
  132. The Martian by Andy Weir – Finished 9/15/15
  133. The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket – Finished 9/16/15
  134. Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb – Finished 9/20/15
  135. The Love of God by John C. Peckham – Finished 9/22/15
  136. Saint Odd by Dean Koontz – Finished 9/26/15
  137. Owen on the Christian Life by Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin – finished 10/2/15
  138. Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett – Finished 10/6/15
  139. Debating Darwin’s Doubt edited by David Klinghoffer – Finished 10/8/15
  140. Star Wars: Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin – Finished 10/9/15
  141. Aborting Aristotle by Dave Sterrett – Finished 10/9/15
  142. Who Was Adam? By Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross – Finished 10/12/15
  143. The Godfather by Mario Puzo – Finished 10/13/15
  144. Reformation Christianity edited by Peter Matheson – Finished 10/15/15
  145. War Maid’s Choice by David Weber – Finished 10/19/15
  146. Scripture and Cosmology by Kyle Greenwood – Finished 10/20/15
  147. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Finished 10/21/15
  148. Innocence by Dean Koontz – Finished 10/24/15
  149. Onward by Russell Moore – Finished 10/25/15
  150. Reformation Readings of Paul edited Allen and Linebaugh – Finished 10/26/15
  151. The God Abduction by Ron Londen – Finished 10/26/15
  152. Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber – Finished 11/1/15
  153. The Paradoxical Rationality of Soren Kierkegaard by McComb – Finished 11/1/15
  154. Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig – Finished 11/2/15
  155. Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper – Finished 11/4/15
  156. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace (audiobook) – Finished 11/4/15
  157. The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket – Finished 11/5/15
  158. Augustine on the Christian Life by Gerald Bray – Finished 11/6/15
  159. The End by Lemony Snicket – Finished 11/7/15
  160. The Analogy of Faith by Archie J. Spencer – Finished 11/8/15
  161. Eve by William Paul Young – Finished 11/9/15
  162. The Spirit of Hinduism by David Burnett – Finished 11/9/15
  163. Flame of Yahweh by Richard M. Davidson – Finished 11/11/15
  164. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Finished 11/12/15
  165. The Once and Future King by T.H. White – Finished 11/13/15
  166. WH40K: Nightbringer by Graham McNeil – Finished 11/14/15
  167. American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion by John Wilsey – Finished 11/16/15
  168. A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber – Finished 11/17/15
  169. History, Law, and Christianity by John Warwick Montgomery – Finished 11/18/15
  170. The Battle of the Tanks by Lloyd Clark – Finished 11/18/15
  171. The Husband by Dean Koontz – Finished 11/19/15
  172. The Myth of Religious Neutrality by Roy Clouser – Finished 11/22/15
  173. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld- Finished 11/22/14
  174. The Olmecs: America’s First Civilization by Richard Diehl – Finished 11/23/15
  175. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – Finished 11/23/15
  176. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld – Finished 11/26/15
  177. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – Finished 11/28/15
  178. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld – Finished 11/30/15
  179. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – Finished 12/3/15
  180. The Incas by Terence D’Altroy – Finished 12/4/15
  181. Partners in Christ by John G. Stackhouse, Jr. – Finished 12/4/15
  182. The Aztecs by Richard F. Townsend – Finished 12/6/15
  183. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – Finished 12/7/15
  184. The Great Christ Comet by Colin Nicholl – Finished 12/8/15
  185. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein – Finished 12/9/15
  186. Foxcraft: The Taken by Inbali Iserles – Finished 12/9/15
  187. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – Finished 12/12/15
  188. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear – Finished 12/14/15
  189. Expository Apologetics by Voddie Baucham, Jr. – Finished 12/14/15
  190. Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide by Edward Feser – Finished 12/15/15
  191. Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans – Finished 12/17/15
  192. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke – Finished 12/19/15
  193. The Shape of the Past by John Warwick Montgomery – Finished 12/22/15
  194. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey – Finished 12/22/15
  195. 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution by Keathley and Rooker – Finished 12/22/15
  196. How Much Does God Foreknow? by Steven C. Roy – Finished 12/23/15
  197. The Art of War by Sun Tzu – Finished 12/25/15
  198. The First World War by Martin Gilbert – Finished 12/27/15
  199. Knowledge and Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga – Finished 12/28/15
  200. Death Wave by Ben Bova – Finished 12/28/15

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic

ben_hurThere was a time when Hollywood battled for which studio could churn out the best epic, the greatest film, the most splendor upon the big screen. “Ben Hur” was a film which towered above all the rest. It won 11 academy awards, a feat matched only by two other movies (“Titanic” and “The Return of the King”), but it was also the only one of those three to win for acting (Best Actor: Charlton Heston as Ben Hur and Hugh Griffith won Best Support Actor).

Although best remembered for its famous chariot race scene, the film’s themes continue to echo with our own times. At the heart of “Ben Hur” is a struggle between ways of viewing the world set alongside an epic story which relates that struggle to the cosmic struggle for redemption and salvation of the people of God. There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows.

Background

It is important to note that “Ben Hur” is based upon the novel of the same name by Lew Wallace. Wallace, a general during the Civil War, was disturbed by a conversation he had with a prominent skeptic of the time, Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s challenge against the historicity of Christianity gave Wallace a great desire to search the historical acconts around the time of Christ and compose Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, his literary apologetic for Christianity (“Introduction,” Tim LaHaye, cited below). The book is itself a masterpiece and well worth reading. It gives an excellent background for understanding some of the themes of the film.

A Battle of Worldviews

The question of worldview is explored throughout the film. What is it that makes hte people of the Roman colony of Judea so obstinate? They seek after Messiahs, after a different savior each day of the week. One conversation poignantly illustrates the heart of this conflict:

Sextus, a centurion in charge of the Roman garrison asks Messala, who has come to relieve him, “How do you fight an idea?”

Messala responds “You ask how to fight an idea? Well, I’ll tell you how: with another idea.”

Messala realizes that at the heart of the people’s will is their worldview. Their hope is in the destruction of Rome. They long for a Messiah who will lead them to a successful revolt to throw off the Romans. Yet Messala desires to fight this hope with his own worldview: that of the power of humankind. Rome is power, and for him, the Emperor is that power deified.

ben-hur-16Revenge

Vengeance. It’s a theme which seems initially to drive the movie. Messala betrays his friend, Judah Ben Hur, towards the beginning of the film. The Hur family is thrown into prison to languish there, and Judah is sent to the galleys to row as a slave. Judah swears to Messala that he will take revenge upon him upon his return. In a deeply ironic voice, Messala responds, “Return?” The life of a galley slave is not expected to be long.

But Judah does return. He rescues the Roman Quintus Arius who is in charge of his ship and is eventually adopted into the Arius family. He returns to Judea as the son of a consul, with all the power and privilege his rank implies. After learning of a way to take revenge upon Messala without the possible legal ramifications–by besting him in the circus maximus in a chariot race and leaving Messala destitute from debt–Judah succeeds in the arena.

The climax of the quest for vengeance can be found in the scene in which Judah Ben Hur confronts Messala for the first time since seeming to come back from the dead. He slams his seal–the seal of the Consul QUintus Arius–into a document and stares Messala down. Now, Judah is in the superior position. He is the one whose victory is inevitable. From this point on, his vengeance seems assured.

However, after Ben Hur’s epic defeat of Messala in the chariot race, which leaves Messala not only broke but also leaves his body broken, it turns out that revenge is not as sweet as it may seem. Messala informs Judah “the race goes on”–his family is still alive, but they are lepers, left to flounder on the edges of society as unclean, cursed wretches.

It is not revenge which pays. It may give some kind of satisfaction for the briefest moment, but Judah learns its satisfaction is only fleeting. His glory must be found elsewhere, and it is not a glory he can bring himself.

Redemption

Judah is devastated by his discovery that his mother and sister are lepers. He realizes there is nothing he can do to save them, and it seems Messala’s own plan has achieved victory after all. Judah, moved by compassion, takes up his mother and sister in his arms despite their protests, almost guaranteeing that he, too, will contract the terrible disease.

He and Esther, a servant of his former household, take his family through the streets of Jerusalem. The latest Messiah, Jesus, is set to be crucified, and a crowd gathers there to watch. As Jesus dies, his blood runs through the rainwater as it spreads out symbolically to the world. When it touches the Hur family, they are cleansed of their diseases, washed utterly by the blood of Christ. In a stunning twist, it is not the hero who brings about victory, but rather the Messiah who has only been seen briefly throughout the film at pivotal moments. It is Jesus to whom all glory is given, not to Judah Ben Hur.

We have seen that Messala hoped in a human who took upon deity for himself. But the film (and indeed Wallace’s earlier book) show that this hope is misplaced. The God-man that humans should look to is not the conqueror; he is not god because he has human power; instead, the God-man Jesus Christ took on flesh in order to save, to humble himself and become obedient to death on the cross. It is a subversive tale. It is a story of redemption and salvation. It is an idea against which the powers of humanity and the devil muster all their strength to attempt to overthrow, but the idea lives on. It is the idea which cannot be overcome, cannot be outshined.

Conclusion

“Ben Hur” is my favorite movie of all time. The epic clearly portrays the truth that is above all truths: we are powerless, but God is powerful. Judah Ben Hur is unable to save that which he loves and must ultimately rely upon another, who saves them through the washing of his blood. Ben Hur’s story is our own in many ways. We continually struggle against the powers of the world and we often have motivations which are, at best, questionable. But ultimately, we find that when we rely upon ourselves, we are unsuccessful. Only when we rely upon God do we find success.

Sources

Tim LaHaye, “Introduction” in Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Signet Classic Edition: 2003).

Ben Hur.

SDG.

——

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