Ben-Hur - Ethics and Leadership
Its chariot race with 15,000 extras on an 18 acre site!
Judea (now Israel and Palestine) during the life of Jesus.
The 1880 novel by the American Civil War general, Lew Wallace (pictured right).
Eleven (including best film, best director and best actor (Charlton
This is the highest number for any film, only equalled by:
- Titanic (pictured right).
- The Lord of the Rings:The Return of the King.
Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), Jewish hero (pictured right).
Messala (Stephen Boyd), his Roman friend and then rival.
The birth of Jesus is shown and
then in 26 AD, Messala returns to Jerusalem, his childhood home, as Roman deputy
governor of Judea.
Massala (pictured right):
- intends to punish disloyalty to Roman rule.
- is concerned about Jesus whose
miracles and teachings are inciting rebellion.
- meets his childhood friend, Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy and influential Jewish
- tells him that the Jews want freedom from the Romans.
- refuses to betray Jewish rebels (so Messala angrily ends their friendship).
- loves Esther (pictured right), his servant’s daughter (sadly agreeing to her
The new Roman governor of Judea, Gratus, arrives in Jerusalem, watched by Ben-Hur and his
sister, Tirzah, from their roof.
Tirzah dislodges a roof tile which frightens Gratus’s horse and injures him. It is seen by the Romans
as an assassination attempt.
Massala arrests Ben-Hur and his family, even though he discovers it was an accident.
Ben-Hur vows revenge. On the way to being a galley slave, he stops at Nazareth where the Roman guards
refuse him water. But a carpenter (Jesus,
unbeknown to Ben-Hur) kindly gives him some.
Three years later, Ben-Hur is still a galley slave, rowing in a Roman ship (pictured right), captained by
Quintus Arrius, who admires his courage and determination to be free.
In a sea battle, Arrius:
- orders that Ben-Hur’s leg be unchained to give him a chance to survive.
- attempts suicide (believing a Roman defeat).
Having escaped, Ben-Hur saves him, and the victorious (and grateful) Arrius:
After seven years away, Ben-Hur:
- meets Balthasar (one of the Three Wise Men who gave gifts to the
Balthasar tells him to:
- follow Jesus’s example of love.
When Ben-Hur goes home, Esther (who didn’t marry after all) also tells him to love.
In a spectacular chariot race (pictured right), Ben-Hur races against Massala.
- ruthlessly eliminates the other competitors with blades on his wheels.
- rams his blades against Ben-Hur's chariot.
- loses a wheel and is badly injured.
Despite Ben-Hur’s forgiveness and compassion, the dying Massala spitefully tells him that both his mother
(Miriam) and sister (Tirzah, pictured right) have leprosy. He rushes to them in
the leper colony and finds Esther giving them food .
Esther and Balthasar listen to Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount about loving your enemies. But
Ben-Hur still hates the Romans, and Esther tells him he has become as horrible as Massala.
Ben-Hur and Esther try to take Miriam and Tirzah (who is dying) to Jesus to heal them. But Pontius
Pilate, the new Roman governor, has just sentenced him to crucifixion.
As Jesus carries his heavy cross, Ben-Hur recognizes him as the man who gave him water and does the same for
The crucifixion (pictured right) transforms Ben-Hur’s hatred into love, inspired by Jesus’s last words:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
After his death, Miriam and Tirzah are miraculously healed during a fierce rainstorm.
Lessons for ethics and leadership
1. Love your enemies
Ben-Hur learns from Jesus and Esther that love and friendship are better and more powerful than vengeance and
hatred (which destroy Massala).
“And I felt his voice take this sword out of my hand”, Ben-Hur tells Esther about Jesus.
Messala is prepared to sacrifice Ben-Hur and his family, despite knowing they are innocent of trying to
assassinate the governor.
2. Hatred makes you horrible
Hatred eats away at Ben-Hur’s soul until he eventually becomes as big a monster as Massala.
3. Lead by love
Jesus’s selfless compassion and
humility make him an inspirational leader.
In contrast, Messala’s attempt to rule by fear and violence ends with his defeat and death.
4. Determination by purpose
Ben-Hur’s hatred and desire for revenge increase his resolve to free himself from slavery.
But then, through Jesus’s example, he is motivated by love and forgiveness.
5. Ideals are important
Ben-Hur is always driven by the burning desire to:
- find freedom for his people.
- end Roman rule (personified by the evil Massala).
6. Never give up hope
- finds freedom from slavery (through Quintus Arrius’s, pictured right, kindness).
- is reunited with Esther after thinking she had married someone else.
His mother and sister are given a fresh start after being miraculously cured of leprosy.
Key quotes on religion and ethics
And I felt his voice take this sword out of my hand, Ben-Hur (talking about Jesus).
He gave me water and a heart to live, Ben-Hur (talking about Jesus at his crucifixion).
Forgiveness is greater and love more powerful than hatred, Esther
Key quote on creativity and change
You ask how to fiight an idea. I'll tell you how. With another idea, Messala
Key quote on learning
Where there is greatness, great government or power, even great feeling or compassion, error also is great. We
progress and mature by fault, Pontius Pilate
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)