In 1880, a retired Union General by the name of Lew Wallace completed his first historical novel while serving as governor in the Territory of New Mexico. He wrote it in response to questions raised by a famous agnostic sharing a train ride from Chicago to Indianapolis. At the time, Wallace wasn't as knowledgeable of the facts surrounding the life of Christ as he had thought. After doing extensive research, he was inspired to write what has become the definitive religious epic. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ helped Wallace sort out his own beliefs about God and Christ, and inspired others to do the same. Today, it stands as the most widely read novel of the 19th Century, and one of the most popular works of all time. It has never been out of print in its 130 year history, and has been made into several plays and four films.
Ben-Hur reflects the life and journey of Lew Wallace. At the Battle of Shiloah, through an accident, he and his men arrived too late to help, making the Union losses significantly higher than they would have been. As a result, Wallace was disgraced. Judah Ben-Hur, through the accident of a loose roof tile, loses his home and property, his family is sent to prison, and he is sent to the galleys. Through a miracle of courage and circumstances, Wallace worked his way back, became a successful statesman and author, and is today remembered in the Hall of Statues in Washington, DC. Through a similar miracle, Ben-Hur works his way back to save his family and get revenge over those who caused their calamity. Ben-Hur is a story of courage and revenge, but it is also a story of redemption and salvation. I believe Wallace saw his life the same. Ben-Hur crosses paths with Christ more than once, so that, in the end, his hate and destructiveness are swallowed up in Christ's love and forgiveness.