by Lewis Wallace

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618

A ray of light, beginning at a height immeasurably beyond the nearest stars, and dropping obliquely to the earth; at its top, a diminishing point; at its base, many furlongs in width; its sides blending softly with the darkness of the night, its core a roseate electrical splendor. The apparition seemed to rest on the nearest mountain southeast of the town, making a pale corona along the line of the summit. The khan was touched luminously, so that those upon the roof saw each other's faces, all filled with wonder.

In the first section of the book, the shepherds in Bethlehem see a wondrous light rising above them. The light emanates from beyond the farthest star and creates a great glow at midnight. Its glow is so powerful that it spreads over the mountains, and people can see each other, even at night. This light symbolizes the way in which Jesus Christ will bring illumination and salvation to the world. The shepherds immediately leave their flocks and go to see Jesus Christ, a baby who has been born to Joseph and Mary. The humble people such as the shepherds believe in Jesus Christ, but the majority of people ignore the birth.

The hand laid kindly upon his shoulder awoke the unfortunate Judah, and, looking up, he saw a face he never forgot—the face of a boy about his own age, shaded by locks of yellowish bright chestnut hair; a face lighted by dark-blue eyes, at the time so soft, so appealing, so full of love and holy purpose, that they had all the power of command and will.

When Judah Ben-Hur is being held prisoner, he sees the young Jesus Christ, who gives Ben-Hur water when he is suffering. Jesus Christ makes a strong impression on Ben-Hur, as Jesus seems calm and full of love. Jesus is described in marked contrast to the Romans, who are cruel and unforgiving. Ben-Hur is likened to Jesus, as Ben-Hur is also filled with love and gentleness. The water Jesus gives Ben-Hur is not simply water but a taste of the salvation and love that Jesus will later provide not only to Ben-Hur but to others.

It may have been pity with which he was moved; whatever the cause, Ben-Hur was conscious of a change in his feelings. A conception of something better than the best of this life—something so much better that it could serve a weak man with strength to endure agonies of spirit as well as of body; something to make death welcome—perhaps another life purer than this one—perhaps the spirit-life which Balthasar held to so fast, began to dawn upon his mind clearer and clearer, bringing to him a certain sense that, after all, the mission of the Nazarene was that of guide across the boundary for such as loved him; across the boundary to where his kingdom was set up and waiting for him.

At the end of the book, Judah Ben-Hur climbs to the top of the hill where Jesus's crucifixion occurred, and he experiences the transcendence and salvation of Jesus. He feels the message of Jesus Christ and senses that a better life awaits him. This awareness helps him endure the pains of life and gives him strength. He knows that life is merely a gateway to a life that is purer and better in the afterlife. Ben-Hur fully understands Jesus's message and accepts that Jesus's kingdom awaits him after death. Ben-Hur gives most of his wealth to the church, and he practices a life of charity and benevolence. He has not only accepted that Jesus is a great teacher but understands that Jesus represents resurrection and the promise of salvation.

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