Most people — certainly those younger than 60 — may only know “Ben-Hur” as a chariot race that appeared in the 1959 Academy Award-winning film starring the late Charlton Heston. That film used to be telecast regularly during the Christmas season, but it seems in recent years, we’re more apt to look for Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” or maybe “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
I was 10-years old when my parents took me to the Capitol Theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to see Ben-Hur. It was quite an event, and the film had quite an impact on this young boy, but it wasn’t until some 30 years later when I made a conscientious decision to ‘return to the classics’ that I actually read the book.
Lew Wallace, a general in the Union Army during the Civil War wrote the book in 1880. Of interest, General Wallace was on the nine-man military commission to try the conspirators involved in the Lincoln assassination, and he was also the president of the court-martial that convicted Henry Wirz, the commander of Andersonville. Following the Civil War, General Lew Wallace served as Governor of the New Mexico Territory. It was during his service in New Mexico — where he actually met Billy the Kid — that he wrote Ben-Hur, which was the most popular American novel until Margaret Mitchell penned Gone with the Wind in 1936.
The complete title of the book is Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It is interesting that even though Christ appears in the story just a handful of times through the lengthy manuscript, his presence looms in the background from the first chapter and effects the outcome in no small way.
With all due respect to anyone and everyone who has ever put “The Christmas Story” to paper, I find Lew Wallace’s rendition, which appears in the first chapters of Ben-Hur to be my favorite telling of this beautiful story. For the last several years, I’ve included it in every Christmas card I send to each of my friends regardless of their spiritual beliefs or even non-beliefs that cross a broad spectrum that includes Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Bahai Faith, and Buddhism. This first Christmas of The Vitruvian Man blog, I offer it as a PDF download. I invite you to download and read the two-page telling of the tale.
The Christmas Story from Ben-Hur