Ben-Hur (1959 film)

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Ben-Hur is a 1959 film about a Jewish prince who is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, but later regains his freedom and returns for revenge. It went on to win eleven Academy Awards, including best picture for 1959.

Directed by William Wyler. Written by Karl Tunberg, based on the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace.
A Tale of the Christ taglines
Spoiler warning: Plot, ending, or solution details follow.

Judah Ben-Hur

  • I believe in the future of my people.
  • You may conquer the land, you may slaughter the people. That is not the end. We will rise again.
  • Rome is an affront to God. Rome is strangling my people and my country and the whole earth, but not forever. I tell you, the day Rome falls, there will be a shout of freedom such as the world has never heard before.
  • [to Messala] May God grant me vengeance. I pray that you live till I return.
  • Find them Messala! Restore them to me, and I will forget what I have vowed with every stroke of that oar you chained me to. Don't disappoint me, Messala.
  • [praying] God forgive me for seeking vengeance. But my path is set and into your hands I commit my life. Do with me as you will.


  • Drusus, as a boy I dreamed of commanding this garrison. And now the wheel has turned. I am in command.
  • There is rebellion in the wind. It will be crushed.
  • Be wise, Judah. It's a Roman world. If you want to live in it, you must become part of it...I tell you, Judah, it's no accident that one small village on the Tiber was chosen to rule the world...It wasn't just our legions...No, it was fate that chose us to civilize the world - and we have. Our roads and our ships connect every corner of the earth, Roman law, architecture, literature and the glory of the human race.
  • It's an insane world, but in it there's one sanity, the loyalty of old friends. Judah, we must believe in one another.
  • [to Judah] I wanted your help. Now you have given it to me. By making this example of you, I discourage treason. By condemning, without hesitation, an old friend, I shall be feared.
  • This is the day Judah. It's between us now.

Quintus Arrius

  • [to Judah] You have the spirit to fight back but the good sense to control it. Your eyes are full of hate, Forty-One. That's good. Hate keeps a man alive. It gives him strength.
  • You are all condemned men. We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well and live.
  • [to Judah] You will never escape while we are victorious. If we are not, you will sink with this ship, chained to your oar.
  • [to Judah] In his eagerness to save you, your God has also saved the Roman fleet.


  • [to Messala] I think you'll find the people changed since you were a boy...They won't pay their taxes in a rational resentment of Rome...then there's religion. I'll tell you, they're drunk with religion, smash the statues of our gods, even those of the Emperor.
  • There's also a wild man in the desert named John the Baptist and a young carpenter's son who goes around doing magic tricks, miracles they call them...This man is different. He teaches that God is near, in every man. It's actually quite profound, some of it.

Sheik Ilderim

  • [to a chariot driver trainee] You think you can treat my horses like animals? Cows and goats, that's all you're fit for! Get off, idiot!
  • One wife? One god, that I can understand - but one wife! That is not civilized. It is not generous.
  • Judah Ben-Hur, my people are praying for a man who can drive their team to victory over Messala. You could be that man! You could be the one to stamp this Roman's arrogance into the sand of that arena. You've seen my horses. They need only a driver who is worthy of them. One who would rule them with love and not the whip. For such a man, they would outrace the wind.
  • [to Judah] The Star of David, will shine out for your people and my people together and blind the eyes of Rome.


  • I've seen too much what hate can do. My father is burned up with it. But I've heard of a young rabbi who says that forgiveness is greater and love more powerful than hatred. I believe it.
  • They were the prison, when I was waiting for news of my father...Oh Judah, you have come to the end of your search. It's over now...Judah, Judah, forget, forget, forget Messala. Go back to Rome.
  • Life is everlasting. Death is nothing to fear if you have faith.

Pontius Pilate

  • Citizens. I welcome you to these games in the name of your Emperor, the divine Tiberius. We dedicate them to his glory and to the glory of Rome of which you are all part.
  • That was a great victory. You were the people's one true god for the time being. Permit us to worship.
  • Where there is greatness, great government or power, even great feeling or compassion, error also is great.


  • Balthasar of Alexandria: I see this terrible thing in your eyes, Judah Ben-Hur. But no matter what this man has done to you, you've no right to take his life. He will be punished inevitably.
  • Narrator: Anno Domini - In the year of our Lord, Judea for nearly a century had lain under the mastery of Rome. In the seventh year of the reign of Augustus Caesar, an imperial decree ordered every Judean each to return to his place of birth to be counted and taxed. Converging ways of many of them led to the gates of their capital city Jerusalem, the troubled heart of their land...Even while they obeyed the will of Caesar, the people clung proudly to their ancient heritage always remembering the promise of their prophets that one day there would be born among them a Redeemer to bring them salvation and perfect freedom.
  • Simonides: Do not pity me, Master Judah. In fact, I'm twice the man I was. There's Mallet, my other half. We met in the dungeons at the citadel. We were released on the same day, Mallet without a tongue and I without life in my legs. Since then, I have been his tongue and he has been my legs. Together, we make a considerable man.
  • Miriam: [to Esther] He is never to know. Let him remember us as we were. There's nothing else I can hope for, only this.


Sextus: You can break a man's skull. You can arrest him. You can throw him into a dungeon. But how do you fight an idea?
Messala: Sir, you ask how to fight an idea. Well, I'll tell you how... with another idea!

Judah: If you were not a bride, I should kiss you goodbye.
Esther: If I were not a bride, there would be no goodbyes to be said.

Arrius: Why did you save me?
Judah: Why did you have me unchained?

Arrius: What is your name, Forty-One?
Judah: [pause] Judah Ben-Hur.
Arrius: Judah Ben-Hur... Let me die.
Judah: [repeating Arrius' words on board the galleys] We keep you alive to serve this ship. Row well and live.

Judah: I must deal with Messala in my own way.
Balthazar: And your way is to kill him. I see this terrible thing in your eyes, Judah Ben-Hur. But no matter what this man has done to you, you have no right to take his life. He will be punished inevitably.
Judah: I don't believe in miracles.
Balthazar: Why, all life is a miracle. Why not at least accept God's judgment? You do not believe in miracles, yet God once spoke to me out of the darkness, and a star led me to a village called Bethlehem where I found a newborn child in a manger. And God lived in this child. By now, he is a grown man, and must be ready to begin his work. And that is why I have returned here, so that I may be at hand when he comes among us. He is near. He saw the sun set this evening as we did. Perhaps he's standing in a doorway somewhere on a hilltop. Perhaps he is a shepherd watching, a fisherman. But he lives in all our lives. From now on we'll carry his mark. There are many paths to God, my son. I hope yours will not be too difficult.

Sheik Ilderim: Balthazar is a good man. But until all men are like him, we must keep our swords bright!
Judah: And our intentions true. So I must leave you.
Sheik Ilderim: One last thought... there is no law in the arena. Many are killed. I hope to see you again.

Simonides: Judah Ben Hur! You've come back to us like a returning faith! Oh Judah, I should like to laugh again. Let us laugh!
Judah: We will laugh.
Simonides: There will be joy again in this house! We will celebrate! Among the dust and cobwebs...

Messala: By what magic do you come bearing the seal of a Consul of Rome?
Judah: You were the magician, Messala. You condemned me to the galleys. When my ship was sunk, I saved the consul's life. Now I've come back, as I swore I would.

Messala: Triumph com-- triumph complete, Judah. The race won. The enemy destroyed.
Judah: : I see no enemy.
Messala: What do you think you see? The smashed body of a wretched animal? There's enough of a man still left here for you to hate. Let me help you...You think they're dead. Your mother and sister. Dead. And the race over. It isn't over, Judah. They're not dead.
Judah: Where are they? Where are they? Where are they?
Messala: Look for them in the Valley of the Lepers, if you can recognize them. It goes on. It goes on, Judah. The race, the race is not over.

Judah: Why did you tell me they were dead?
Esther: It was what they wanted. Judah, you must not betray this faith. Will you do this for them?
Judah: Not to see them.

Miriam: Is Judah alive? Is he happy?
Esther: Yes, he is well. Your mind can be at rest for him. He is well, Miriam.
Miriam leaves]
Esther: [to Judah, who was hiding] You can go back...They have one blessing left. To think you remember them as they were and live your own life. Forget what is here.

Judah: I have just come from the Valley of Stone. My mother and sister live what's left of their lives. By Rome's will, lepers, outcasts without hope...Their flesh...carries Rome's mark...the deed was not Messala's. I knew him, well, before the cruelty of Rome spread in his blood. Rome destroyed Messala as surely as Rome has destroyed my family.
Pontius Pilate: Where there is greatness, great government or power, even great feeling or compassion, error also is great. We've progressed and matured by fault. But Rome has said she is ready to join your life to hers in a great future...not to crucify yourself on a shadow such as old resentment or impossible loyalties. Perfect freedom has no existence. The grown man knows the world he lives in, and for the present, the world is Rome.
Judah: I am Judah Ben-Hur.
Pontius Pilate: I become the hand of Caesar, ready to crush all those who challenge his authority. There are too many small men of envy and ambition who try to disrupt the government of Rome. You have become the victor and hero for these people. They look to you, their one true god as I called you. If you stay here, you will find yourself part of this tragedy.
Judah: I'm already part of this tragedy.

Esther: 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.'
Judah: Children of God! In that dead valley where we left them? I tell you, every man in Judea is unclean and will stay unclean until we've scoured off our bodies the crust and filth of being at the mercy of tyranny. No other life is possible except to wash this land clean.
Esther: In blood?
Judah: Yes, in blood.
Esther: I know there is a law in life. That blood begets more blood as dog begets dog. Death generates death. The vulture breeds the vulture. But the voice I heard on the hill today said, 'Love your enemy. Do good to those who despitefully use you.'
Judah: All who are born in this land hereafter can suffer as we have done.
Esther: As you make us do now! Are we to bear nothing together, even love?
Judah: I could hardly draw a breath without feeling you in my heart. Everything I do from this moment will be as great a pain to you as you have ever suffered. It is better not to love me!
Esther: It was Judah Ben-Hur I loved. What has become of him? You seem to be now the very thing you set out to destroy, giving evil for evil. Hatred is turning you to stone. It's as though you had become Messala! I've lost you Judah.

Judah: He gave me water, and the heart to live. What has he done to merit this?
Balthazar: He has taken the world of our sins unto himself. To this end he said he was born, in that stable where I first saw him. For this cause, he came into the world.

Miriam: As though he were carrying in that cross the pain of the world.
Tirzah: So fearful, and yet why is it that... that I'm not afraid anymore?

Judah: Almost at the moment He died, I heard Him say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
Esther: Even then.
Judah: Even then. And I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand.


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