Ben-Hur (1959 film)

1959 American epic historical drama film by William Wyler

Ben-Hur is a 1959 American 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 by Lew Wallace.
A Tale of the Christ(taglines)

Judah Ben-Hur

  • 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'll forget what I vowed with every stroke of that oar you chained me to.


  • 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 are 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.

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.
  • [to Judah] In his eagerness to save you, your God has also saved the Roman fleet.

Sheik Ilderim

  • One wife? One God, that I can understand - but one wife! That is not civilized. It is not generous.
  • [to Judah] The Star of David, will shine out for your people and my people together and blind the eyes of Rome.


  • 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.
  • Sextus: 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.
  • Esther: 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.


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: Sextus, you ask how to fight an idea. Well, I'll tell you how... with another idea!

Judah: I would do anything for you, Messala... except betray my own people.
Messala: In the name of all the gods, Judah, what do the lives of a few Jews mean to you?
Judah: If I cannot persuade them, that does not mean I will help you... murder them. Besides, you must understand this, Messala. I believe in the past of my people, and in their future.
Messala: Future? You are a conquered people.
Judah: You may conquer the land; you may slaughter the people. But that is not the end; we will rise again.
Messala: You live on dead dreams; you live on the myths of the past. The glory of Solomon is gone and you think it will return?. Joshua will not rise again to save you nor David. There is only one reality in the world today. Look to the West, Judah! Don't be a fool, look to Rome!
Judah: I would rather be a fool than a traitor... or a killer!
Messala: I am a soldier!
Judah: Yes! Who kills! For Rome! And Rome is evil!
Messala: I warn you...
Judah: No! I warn you! Rome is an affront to God! Rome is strangling my people and my country, the whole Earth! But not forever. And I tell you the day Rome falls there will be a shout of freedom such as the world has never heard before!
Messala: Judah, either you help me or you oppose me, you have no other choice. You're either for me or against me!
Judah: If that is the choice, then I am against you.

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

Arrius: What service have you seen? Forty-One?
Judah: A month's less a day in this ship.
Arrius: You keep an exact account. And before?
Judah: Three years in other ships.
Arrius: Three years [hits Judah with a whip] 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. Now, listen to me, all of you. You are all condemned men. We keep you alive to serve this ship. So row well... and live.

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.

Arrius: Not long ago, I returned to Rome... with a young man who had saved my life. You all know him as the finest charioteer in Rome. Five times, he's driven my horses to victory. I know him as one who stands in the place of the son I lost. I have the love and pride in a son's achievements... which I thought I should never have again. [calls Judah to appear before the crowd] Nothing could make stronger our bond... but tonight I wish to share it with you all. The formalities of adoption have been completed. Young Arrius is now the legal bearer of my name... and the heir to my property. This ring of my ancestors... would have gone to my son. So now it is yours.
[Judah puts the ring on his finger and the crowd cheers]
Judah: It's a strange destiny that brought me to a new life... a new home... a new father. It brought me here. It may take me away. But wherever I may be... I shall always try to wear this ring as a son of Arrius should. With gratitude and affection... and with honor.
[The crowd cheers again]

Arrius: You're leaving.
Judah: I must.
Arrius: It's a journey I can't keep you from. Your eyes have never left it all these months. I can recognize pain. But still, my counsel is to wait. Gratus is to be replaced. The governorship goes to Pontius Pilate.
Judah: When?
Arrius: Very soon. It's very much to our purpose.
Judah: Nothing is to the purpose if, when I come back to Judea, I come too late. That is the thought which has punished me every moment I've spent here.
Arrius: Will Rome see you again?
Judah: Here is a part of my life which you have made for me. I shall remember it.
Arrius: Whoever the gods are, they take small interest in an old man's hopes.
Judah: They have their way.

Sheik Ilderim: 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 have raced the wind.
Judah: I must deal with Messala in my own way.
Balthasar: 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.
Balthasar: Your whole life is a miracle. Why will you not 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.

Messala: 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! Is enough of a man still left here for you to hate? Let me help you... [convulses with pain] 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: [last words] Look for them in the Valley of the Lepers, if you can recognize them. [Judah doubles over with grief] It goes on. It goes on, Judah. The race... the race is not over! [dies]

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: [hugs Judah] Oh, Judah. I was afraid you would never come back... afraid of what would happen to you. But I see you again.
Judah: Your father's waiting for me. Where is he?
Esther: What do you mean to do? [Judah does not answer] Oh, Judah. Rest, sleep. For a few hours of the night let your mind be at peace.
Judah: Peace? Love and peace. Do you think I don't long for them as much as you do? Where do you see them?
Esther: If you had heard this man from Nazareth.
Judah: Balthasar's word.
Esther: He is more than Balthasar's word. His voiced traveled with such a still purpose. It was more than a voice. A man more than a man. He said, '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 as the vulture breeds the vulture. But the voice I heard today on the hill said, 'Love your enemy. Do good to those who spitefully 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. But I know... that everything I do from this moment... bears greater pain than 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! [Judah looks at her, shocked] I've lost you, Judah.

Judah: This is where your search has brought you, Balthasar. He gave me water... and a heart to live. What has He done to merit this?
Balthasar: He has taken the world of our sins onto 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.
Judah: For this death?
Balthasar: For this beginning.

Miriam: [about Jesus] As though He were carrying in that cross the pain of the world.
Tirzah: So fearful, and yet why is it I'm not afraid anymore?
[Thunder sounds]
Esther: The shadow of a storm. [The sky goes dark while she, Miriam and Tirzah enter the cave] A strange darkness... but still day.
[Thunder sounds louder]
Miriam: His life is over.

[Last lines]
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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