Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Judah Ben-Hur, the titular character, is descended from a Judean royal family. While a newly-appointed Roman prefect, Valerius Gratus, passes by Ben-Hur's house, a roof tile falls, and Ben-Hur's former friend Messala accuses him of trying to kill Gratus. His family is imprisoned, and Ben-Hur is condemned to become a galley slave. After three years in the galleys, he saves Roman Quintus Arrius from drowning during a battle, and Arrius adopts him as his son. After Arrius dies, Ben-Hur inherits his wealth. He returns to his homeland and reveals himself to his former servant. He races Messala on chariots and causes him to become severely crippled. Ben-Hur organizes a physical revolt against Rome, but he eventually converts to Christianity and spends his life and fortune helping the underground church. Ben-Hur's journey represents the path to salvation and prosperity through Christ. Though he suffers heavily throughout his life, Ben-Hur is ultimately freed from his hatred and desire for vengeance by Christ's teachings.
Messala is a Roman nobleman. He is Ben-Hur's childhood friend and later his nemesis. He accuses Ben-Hur of trying to assassinate Gratus and causes him to be sent to the galleys. After he is crippled in a chariot race, Messala sends a man to kill Ben-Hur, but Ben-Hur bribes the killer out of committing the murder. Messala is finally murdered by his wife, Iras, the daughter of Balthasar, one of the wise men who came to find Jesus.
Jesus is a carpenter from Nazareth who is worshiped as Christ, the son of God. The first part of the novel is an account of his birth story. He afterwards appears throughout the novel at various points. For instance, he gives water to the enslaved Ben-Hur on his way to the galley ship. He is baptized by John the Baptist at the Jordan River. He heals Ben-Hur's mother and sister of their leprosy. The story also follows Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion, which Ben-Hur witnesses.
Miriam and Tirzah
Miriam is Ben-Hur's mother and Tirzah is his younger sister. Together, they are imprisoned in the notorious Antonia Fortress. While locked away in their cell, they develop leprosy, but they are eventually cured by Jesus and reunited with Ben-Hur.
Simonides is a slave of Ben-Hur's father. He has been protecting the family fortune. Once he is convinced that Ben-Hur is who he claims to be, Simonides offers the fortune to Ben-Hur.
Esther is the daughter of Simonides. She and Ben-Hur eventually marry and have children together.
Malluch is the servant of Simonides. He and Ben-Hur become friends, and Malluch accompanies Ben-Hur and Esther to Rome at the end of the book.
Minor Biblical Characters
Other Biblical characters presented in the novel include Joseph, the father of Jesus, and Mary, his mother. The novel also presents the three wise men, Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar, as they search for and find the Christ child. Balthasar later reappears in the story when Jesus is a grown man.