Thursday, November 19, 2009

"God only is so great"

Many of my earliest images of the New Testament world came from the 1959 film version of Ben Hur [the poster is from the 1925 film]. It was the first film I attended by myself unaccompanied by parents. Later I bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over. The music Miklos Rozsa composed for the iconic nativity scene became a part of my personal Christmas soundtrack. Humanities, published by the NEH, provides an article about the the author of the book on which the films were based:
Since its first publication, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has never been out of print. It outsold every book except the Bible until Gone With the Wind came out in 1936, and resurged to the top of the list again in the 1960s. By 1900 it had been printed in thirty-six English-language editions and translated into twenty others, including Indonesian and Braille.

The novel intertwines the life of Jesus with that of a fictional protagonist, the young Jewish prince named Judah Ben-Hur, who suffers betrayal, injustice, and brutality, and longs for a Jewish king to vanquish Rome. It has the appeal of a rollicking historical adventure combined with a sincere Christian message of redemption. ....
The author was lawyer, territorial governor, ambassador and Civil War general Lew Wallace.
.... Wallace often told the story of how in 1875 he met on a train the well-known agnostic Colonel Robert Ingersoll. After hours of conversation in which Ingersoll questioned the evidence for God, heaven, Christ, and other theological concepts, Wallace came away realizing how little he knew about his own religion. “I was ashamed of myself, and make haste now to declare that the mortification of pride I then endured . . . ended in a resolution to study the whole matter, if only for the gratification there might be in having convictions of one kind or another.”

So began Wallace’s journey into the world of first-century Judea. In true lawyer style, he hit the books: First the Bible, and then every reference book about the ancient Middle East he could find. ....

.... Wallace prided himself on scrupulously following the Bible in depicting the words and acts of Christ, except for this one scene. “The Christian world would not tolerate a novel with Jesus Christ its hero, and I knew it,” explained Wallace. “He should not be present as an actor in any scene of my creation. The giving a cup of water to Ben-Hur at the well near Nazareth is the only violation of this rule. . . . I would be religiously careful that every word He uttered should be a literal quotation from one of His sainted biographers.” Since that left a considerable gap of knowledge of about twenty years of Jesus’ life, Wallace centered the plot on a fictional contemporary’s struggles and had Jesus play a cameo role. ....

The most vivid scenes in the book are also the spectacular ones from the movie—the Roman fleet’s battle at sea, the chariot race between Ben-Hur and his enemy Messala, and the crucifixion. But Wallace’s favorite scene wasn’t one of thrilling action, or even one where Christ appeared. It is a quiet scene where Ben-Hur tells his friends about the miracles he’s seen Christ perform—from turning water into wine to raising a man from the dead—and asks them what they make of it. Balthasar, one of the original three wise men, replies, “God only is so great.“

“When I had finished that, ” Wallace confessed, “I said to myself with Balthasar, ‘God only is so great.’ I had become a believer. ” [more]
Humanities: Ben Hur