Where Was I? Oh, Right. Back To Ben-Hur

I have the hardest time when I don’t read a story for even a couple days, and then try to jump right back into it. Did I have time to read Ben-Hur this weekend? Honestly; yes I did. Especially since I started reading another book Saturday night while I was trying to stay awake all night and get back on my shift-worker schedule. It was a lighter read, a fun murder-mystery (should that be fun? Ehh, it’s a good story) that I got halfway through. But more on that later.

So as to where I left Ben-Hur; he has heard Balthasar’s story, and needs time to contemplate what it could all possibly mean.

Book Five begins with Ben-Hur thinking about what he was told, as well as having Esther on his mind.

Messala is also occupied by his thinking, and pens a letter to Gratius, the governor whom Ben-Hur supposedly tried to assassinate. He tells of the incredible story he heard of how Ben-Hur is still alive, and that he actually saw him the previous day, although not recognizing him at the time.

Ben-Hur spends some time with Esther, and he runs the horses through their paces, preparing for the race against Messala and hopefully the revenge he has longed for all of these long years.

An intercepted letter that falls into the hands of Ben-Hur and Ilderim tells that no one is sure of the fate of his mother and sister, and that Messala now considers Ilderim to be a traitor.

Ilderim takes the highest offense to this. He confesses that he knows Ben-Hur for who he truly is, and hopes that he will seek the revenge he himself is no longer capable of dispensing. He won’t tell Ben-Hur how he came to know his true identity, just that he does indeed know it.

(At some point I will reach the end of this story; certainly not as soon as I had expected, but I will get there, I promise!) Although I am enjoying this story, it normally does not take me this long to read a book, even one of this length. I am looking forward to ending this one and moving on to something new.

More of Ben-Hur

Chapter VI, of book 4

Ben-Hur is part of a procession of people going to the Grove. He finds an opportunity to leave the group aside and trails off into the thick overgrowth of the woods. He stays for some time there, enjoying the beauty of the blooming trees and the creatures who dare show themselves to him. He quickly chides himself for having happy feelings when his mother and sister are lost.

As he works on getting away from the Grove, he notices from a bridge that what he is in is actually a wall-less temple, built strictly out of nature’s own materials.

Chapter VII has Ben-Hur going with Malluch to the stadium, where competitors will gather for the chariot races.  He learns that one of the drivers is none other than Messala, looking as haughty as ever. An instance of near death-by-chariot to a woman and her father, she on camel-back, tells us that the father is Balthasar, one of the 3 wise men we met in the beginning of the story. (Malluch was who was ordered to follow Ben-Hur; I forgot to tell you that, didn’t I?)

The opportunity presents itself for Ben-Hur to race against Messala, on the morrow, at what they call the Circus. He is quickly off to see the Sheik whom is the owner of a beautiful chariot and steed of horses, said to be descendants of the 1st Pharaoh’s horses.

As Malluch and Ben-Hur travel to the Sheik, Malluch describes the story of Balthazar, as Ben-Hur recalls the man at the fountain whose life he saved from the chariot driven by Messala was one and the same.

Further on, Malluch returns to Simonides and reports on what he learned of Ben-Hur. He states with confidence that Ben-Hur is whom he claims to be, by the things he had told him and the way he behaved. Simonides daughter Esther seems especially happy about this as well, and her father is not sure if it is because he would be their ruler or because she loves him. (I find it amazing how fast people fell in love back then, don’t you?) She confesses that she does indeed love Ben-Hur, and wishes for him to not attend Circus, and race against Messala. Simonides ponders this information as he also ponders knowing that the King to Be was indeed born, and expecting him to make his appearance in his lifetime.

The story then turns back to Messala, and a gathering of soldiers and followers amongst who he begins to hear the tale of a Roman and a Jew, whom was adopted by Quintas Arrius, yet Messala fails to make any connection to his former young friend. 

Again we go back to Ben-Hur, who has now arrived at the tent of the Sheik of whose horses and chariots he wishes to command in the race at the Circus. After discussing his plans for revenge with the Sheik, he again meets Balthazar, whom is also there with the Sheik. As they quietly eat dinner, it becomes clear that of this gathering of an Arab, a Jew, and an Egyptian, all believers in One True God, it is Balthazar that must tell his story of searching for and finding the baby Jesus.

The author kindly lets you know that from here-on-out, Jesus will be referenced to throughout the story, as this is the timeframe of when he began his ministry.

A quote from Balthazar that literally took my breath away (or I was holding my breath…)

“There is a kingdom on the earth, though it is not of it–a kingdom of wider bounds than the earth–wider than

the sea and the earth, though they were rolled together as finest gold and spread by the beating of hammers. Its

existence is a fact as our hearts are facts, and we journey through it from birth to death without seeing it; nor

shall any man see it until he hath first known his own soul; for the kingdom is not for him, but for his soul.

And in its dominion there is glory such as hath not entered imagination–original, incomparable, impossible of

increase” (Wallace, 1880, pg 166).

I have heard the kingdom referred to as already being here on earth from several different authors, including C.S. Lewis, who ended the Narnia series with everyone going up, up, higher into the garden that continued to become more bright and beautiful.

I think that is more than enough for today; I hope I am not boring you with this story, I have to say, it is one of the better books I have read! And yes, I still want to see the movie.

Wallace, L. (1880) Ben-Hur. Harper and Brothers Publishing.

Some Ben-Hur Bits

Another quick update, I am getting this read slowly-but-surely! (I have to be honest, I almost bought the movie Saturday, I have a dvd-buying problem, but I knew if I did I would watch it immediately and likely never finish the book. I will be getting the movie as soon as I get this story finished!)

Book 4

The year of our Lord 29

After 5 years, we see Ben-Hur still on a ship. The Grove of Daphne seems to beckon to him. Ben-Hur is going to the citadel, to discover who may be left of his family and servants after being told the story of his own disappearance by a Hebrew on board the ship. He was told of the supposed death of his father, and that a slave named Simonides  took over the running of the family business, no questions asked, and is now running a successful business, as a prosperous business owner.

Ben-Hur, hoping only for word on his mother and sister, is willing to free this slave for any information about these two women. Simonides has nothing to tell Ben-Hur of his family, only that they are lost. Ben-Hur leaves, disappointed in what he has been told.

Simonides, on the other hand, decides to have him followed, apparently to see if Ben-Hur is the Prince he claims to be. His daughter, Esther, is going to learn why the appearance of this stranger has made her father so extraordinarily happy. Esther learns the story of her father, and mother, and that he is indeed the slave of the late Ben-Hur, and how he came to be managing his property and business.

As Ben-Hur makes his way to what was once his home, he notices that although many things appear to be different, maybe they are really still the same (it seems to be a life-learning lesson that has never changed through the ages).  

I am anxious to read about his mother and sister, I hope he finds out something soon!

Ben-Hur in Bits and Pieces

I apologize for getting behind on updating this book. I even missed posting my Friday Fun Facts! 🙂

In the year of our Lord 24.

How the true 1st edition of Ben-Hur looks. His wife had  influence over the cover design seen here.
How the true 1st edition of Ben-Hur looks. His wife had influence over the cover design seen here.

The 1st two chapters of Book 2 basically give descriptions of the sailing vessels used during this time, and the types of workers who performed different duties, the most important seemingly being the rowers.

Arrius was the captain of this ship, and his attention had been caught by a Jewish rower, known only as rower #60.

“Ithamar, of the house of Hur.”

Chapter three has Arrius calling rower #60 to him (known to us from here-on-out as Ben-Hur) to find out his story. With hope and a happy heart Ben-Hur explains he seeks word of his mother and sister, and how the falling tile that knocked out the Roman Governor had labeled him an assassin.

Chapter 4 starts out like you would expect a children’s adventure story to begin, with pirates chasing down the fleet of Arrius. As it became obvious to Ben-Hur as he observed the actions of the crew around him and Arrius, they were indeed preparing for battle. It is a difficult thing to read that the oarsmen were all shackled to their benches, preventing any chance of escape in the event of a disaster (pg. 92). Ben-Hur was seized with anticipation, guilt, and shame as he wondered if he himself would be chained to his seat as the rest of the oarsmen were. He indeed was not; and knew then that Arrius had indeed placed him in a higher stature.

I will spare you the gruesome details of the battle that took over the sea. As Ben-Hur realized that the Romans had boarded their ship, he knew that Arrius could indeed be fighting for his life, and if he were killed, Ben-Hur would likely never get to see his mother, sister, and the Holy Land.

Both Ben-Hur and Arrius ended up in the water as the ship was overtaken and began to break apart and flood. As Arrius slowly regains consciousness and grasps what has happened, he reveals to Ben-Hur that he did indeed know his father, and loved him.

From page 100:

I shall be duumvir, and thou! I knew thy father, and loved him. He was a prince indeed. He taught me

a Jew was not a barbarian. I will take thee with me. I will make thee my son. Give thy God thanks, and call

the sailors. Haste! The pursuit must be kept. Not a robber shall escape. Hasten them!” (Wallace, 1880).

At the conclusion of book 3, both return to Quintus Arrius’ home, and Ben-Hur is made his adopted son and receiver of everything he owns upon his death.

On to book 4, with a goal of being done by week’s end! (I get a feeling I may likely regret saying that).

Wallace, L. (1880). Ben-Hur. Harper and Brothers Franklin Store.

Since I’m Reading It, I Might As Well Talk About It!

ImageBen-Hur. It looks a little intimidating. Even sounds a little intimidating. I have to say I am really enjoying this story. The descriptions Mr. Wallace uses make you feel like you are right there.

Some things from the start of the book:

Reading about the 3 Wise men from a different point of view is interesting. The Egyptian is Balthasar, The Greek is Gaspar, and the Hindoo (their spelling) is Melchior. Each individually saw the star and heard a voice tell them to seek the Christ-child that was to be born. They met at the place where the star and prophecy directed them, and each told their own story of how they came to be there.

As they began to get closer to Bethlehem, they asked those that they passed where they could find the Christ-child. The following was the general response:

pg 39 –

“Nobody knows. They are said to be Persians–wise men who talk with the stars–prophets, it may be, like

Elijah and Jeremiah.”

“What do they mean by King of the Jews?”

“The Christ, and that he is just born.”

One of the women laughed, and resumed her work, saying, ‘Well, when I see him I will believe.”

Another followed her example: “And I–well, when I see him raise the dead, I will believe.”

A third said, quietly, “He has been a long time promised. It will be enough for me to see him heal one leper.”

And the party sat talking until the night came, and, with the help of the frosty air, drove them home.

They do find him, in a manger, with many followers who joined them on their quest, bowing down to worship their new King.

Book two moves ahead 21 years, and focuses on young Judah, and his friend Messala, gone for 5 years and returning a Roman. Judah can no longer tolerate Messala, who now speaks of the Jewish beliefs as if they are a joke.

Strictly by accident, Judah knocks a Roman Governor off from his horse, and this is taken as an attempt on his life. With his whole household, including his mother and sister, Tirzah, in mortal danger, he begs for their mercy as he is taken prisoner. It is at this point that we notice the change in Judah, as he becomes a man.

“The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young

A difficult read emotionally, but one you can’t put down. I questioned myself as to whether or not I really wanted to read it, once I was told what the story was about. As a parent, it is like reading your most terrible fear come to life.

This has turned into one of those books that book clubs are raving about; there are even versions with the questions in the back that you can use for book clubs. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. I just tend to feel that books that do this are promoting themselves for the wrong reason (this is just my personal opinion).

"The Shack" by William Paul young
“The Shack” by William Paul Young

As sad and heartbreaking as this story is, I have read it 4 times now. It is one of those stories that reminds me of what my faith is supposed to do in my life, and how no matter what I am doing every day of the week as far as my religion is concerned, I can still be closer to God.

If you haven’t read or heard about this story, the premise is as follows: a loving family strong in faith suffers the unthinkable when their child is kidnapped, and murdered. A young 6 year old girl, innocent to all the evils in the world, and the fact that bad things really do happen to good people. (As a mother to 4 girls, the youngest who was 6 when I first read this, that was why I hesitated to read it).

The rest of the story deals with a father’s anger, guilt, and faith, and a weekend spent with God, in various forms. As a religious person whom still sometimes struggles with understanding the Triune God, this story presents this in a way that brings it home to me, making it make sense. Does that make sense?

Mack, the father, suffers in a deep depression, while functioning on the outside, for four years. Receiving a note in the mail that is suspicious at best, Mack spends a weekend in the shack where his daughter’s life ended, and comes to terms with not only her murder, but so much more. Nan, his wife, had a strong faith that did not seem to waver as Mack struggled to get through each day. This weekend would also help him understand how Nan kept a strong faith through the most difficult part of their lives.

How would you like having breakfast with Jesus, or growing a garden with His help? Would you even know how to approach him? From the story:

What should you do when you come to the door of a house, or cabin in this case, where God might be? Should you knock? Presumably God already knew that Mack was there. Maybe he ought to simply walk in and introduce himself, but that seemed equally absurd. And how should he address him? Should he call him “Father,” or “Almighty One,” or perhaps “Mr. God,” and would it be best if he fell down and worshipped? Not that he was really in the mood (Young, Wm. Paul, 2007, pg. 84).

How does Mack first see God? As a large, African-American woman,  embracing him as someone whom finally sees a long-lost friend after many, many years. Smelling of his mother’s perfume, Mack fights to stop the tears that start to flow in front of this “stranger.” Next a small Asian woman approached him, a collector of tears is what she told Mack she was, and shimmered in a way that made it difficult for him to look at her. The third person to join them in the shack is a man of Middle Eastern descent, an obvious laborer with his tool belt full of tools. Confused, Mack asks all of them, “Are there more of you?”

“No Mackenzie.” The black woman chuckled. “We is all that you get, and believe me, we’re more than enough” (pg. 87).

So Mack has his three companions for the weekend, each with a specific purpose to help him deal with his grief, his faith, and his anger. They break down his walls, the barriers in his heart, and show him that in order to be free from his guilt and grief, he absolutely must forgive his enemy; the man who murdered his child.

This story is full of emotion, sadness, and even hope as Mack goes on this journey to reveal what is truly in his heart, and learns how to be healed of the emotional pain that has consumed his life, and in turn his family’s life, for the past four years.

Whatever your beliefs may be, or not be, this is a story to be read by everyone, whether you have Faith or not. It makes points that seem generic to humankind in general, without trying to force someone else’s beliefs on you. You understand the story, and the lessons it seems to present without ever really trying.

This is definitely a book I will pick up for the 5th time, and likely even more than that.

The Shack. 2007. William Paul Young. Windblown Media: Newbury Park, California.

“The Quest” by Nelson DeMille Review

I’m happy to say I finished “The Quest”, by Nelson DeMille, on schedule as I planned. It was a good story, but there were a couple things that I did not care for (more on that later).

This story centers around 2 journalists (Frank Purcell and Henry Mercado) and a photographer (Vivian Smith) who are in Ethiopia to cover the war that is going on (per the book’s setting). This group runs into a dying priest who has been locked up in a tiny prison cell with no windows for 40 years. He was locked up because he was protecting the location of the Holy Grail.

Much of the story is centered on the war that is going on, and some extensive information about the leaders of these few groups that are at war with each other. The description of the war and the treatment, and disposal, of war prisoners is as graphic and terrible to read as you would expect it to be. The narrative gives you a real sense of being there, and seeing and experiencing what the main characters are seeing and experiencing. You can picture what the jungles and desolate lands look like while reading this story.

Where is the Holy Grail? In Ethiopia. In a monastery made out of black obsidian rock that is next to impossible to locate, and heavily guarded by monks. The majority of the story is centered around our 3 characters trying to find this place. They go to Ethiopia, are captured, abused, escape with their lives, only to eventually go back again, into the same war zone, determined to find the Holy Grail.

They barely make it out again, but do manage to find the black monastery and the legendary Holy Grail. But, out of the 3 of them, only two of them can see it, because the 3rd person, Frank Purcell, does not have the faith in his heart to allow him to see it, at first. Vivian Smith and Henry Mercado believed all along that this religious artifact was not only real but being safeguarded from thieves.

So what is Frank’s problem? He doesn’t believe in God, or Heaven, or have any sort of faith. This could be due to his time he spent in another war. Henry is older that Frank and Vivian, and spent even more time in war zones, but has a strong faith that does not waver throughout the story. In the end, Vivian basically tells Frank he has got to believe in order to see it. And it appears to him. The Holy Grail, a brass cup filled with the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood of Jesus was dripping from the lance that was suspended in thin air above the cup. Yes, the lance that pierced Jesus’ side as he hung on the crucifix.

What didn’t I like about the story? The forced romantic storyline that did not fit. It felt forced, like an afterthought, filler for the story but not that important. So Vivian is with Henry. Henry gets tied to a pole as a war criminal while Vivian and Frank escape this fate. But they are right there with him. So what do Vivian and Frank do? They are all convinced they are going to be executed by morning, so Frank and Vivian have sex. Up above where Henry is chained. In full view of him. Really? It seemed more impossible to me that this was going to take place than them finding the Holy Grail.

So Henry is angry, and Vivian and Frank are a little sorry, but likely not enough. Fast forward a few months, and Frank is convincing Henry that all 3 of them need to return to Ethiopia to find the grail. What happens during the next leg of the journey? You guessed it. Frank is test flying a plane, and Vivian wants to make Henry feel better about what she did to him, so she has sex with him. Really? Now Henry has one up on Frank, even if he doesn’t know it. But he finds out, of course. Then Frank is mad, and Henry is mad, and Vivian is just I-don’t-know what, but she is a piece of work.

They struggle through the end of their journey and lose a couple comrades on the way, but eventually find the Holy Grail, and maybe Vivian will stay with Frank, or maybe stay with them both because neither of them seems to be bothered by her lack or morals.

Good story? Yes. Great? Not for me. If you are a fan of wars, history, Rome, Ethiopia, or anything to do with the Catholic and/or Christian religions, you will likely enjoy this book. I didn’t ever feel like “I just can’t bear to finish this story”, but it is one book on my bookshelf that I will not likely read again. I’m glad I read it, it had me searching the internet for current, up-to-date information on the Holy Grail, as I know many religious factions are still searching for it today.