Of Things Lost or Omitted (And Other Things Too)

Ooh…. I didn’t realise it had been quite so long since I posted. I will be posting more regularly now, due to a student challenge I’m involved in. When one wants to do something but isn’t sure if one has the intrinsic motivation to actually make regular time for it, some extrinsic motivation really helps!  I plan to be posting at least once a week now, and I’m sure there will be times when I post more than that. We’ll see!

I finished reading Ben-Hur last week. I read it in June, taking it with me to read while travelling to Germany. I didn’t manage to bring all of it back, however. Pages 99 and 100 are… somewhere. Perhaps at this moment they are thousands of feet above me, speeding above the clouds. I don’t know. They were somewhere in the area of my seat when I got off the plane. And while I would not wish to think of myself as careless about whether or not my books are intact, on this occasion I felt it more important to try to catch my connecting flight, feeling as I did the constraints of time. Missing my plane because I was hunting for a page from a book just didn’t sound like a great idea. And at least I’d already read those particular pages! With the way the book has continued to fall apart, it’s hardly something I’d really want to save for posterity anyway.

As for the story itself, well, coming as it did on the heels of my reading two Austen books in a row, it was definitely a change. It may be an exaggeration, but I did think that Lew Wallace must have used more words describing the physical appearance of Balthasar as he waits for his two companions than Jane Austen used describing the physical characteristics of every character at every point in Pride and Prejudice put together. And as for his descriptions of scenery and buildings, well, my patience was tried. However, when he is not drowning in descriptions, Wallace can tell an attention-grabbing story.

Ben-Hur is, of course, set during the time of Christ and for me it was interesting to see a picture of the richness and complexity of life in that time and place–a way to imaginatively (and yes, it is only imaginatively) “colour in” some of the biblical stories. There was so much going on–the Romans in charge, the political unrest and intrigue, the hatred the Jews felt for those Romans.  I think it’s also good to imagine what it would have been like for the people who lived in that world, and particularly for the people who encountered Jesus. They were real people who experienced real awe or fear or joy or confusion or whatever it was in those situations. I’m so familiar with so many of the stories myself that I forget that these people weren’t familiar with them–because they weren’t reading the stories years later, they were living them. It was new and intense and unpredictable. It’s like that conversation between Sam and Frodo–I may not remember it quite right, but Sam is talking about the old stories and how, although they’re enjoyable to read about, they were not enjoyable for those who had to live through them. And for the people who actually experienced those turbulent, world-shaking days during the times of Christ, their experiences, both good and bad, were as real as mine (and rather more dramatic).

That being said, I did not like the way Ben-Hur  portrayed Christ. Too soft and weak. It’s not that Jesus wasn’t “meek and lowly of heart” (He was), it’s not that He wasn’t tender and loving and compassionate (He was), but He was more than that. He turned over tables and chased people out of the temple, after all. He pronounced woes on hypocritical scribes and pharisees. He warned of judgement to come. Even worse than this effeminate Jesus was the fact that while the story recounted Jesus’ death in detail, it never mentioned the resurrection. It didn’t even imply it. If you didn’t know from elsewhere that Jesus rose from the dead, you’d have been none the wiser after reading Ben-Hur. That’s a glaring omission and Paul would have had none of it.

It’s not a book to take your theology from, that’s for sure. The problems I mentioned aren’t the only ones I noticed. But it’s still a very enjoyable story and even a thought-provoking one.

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