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Three Magi have come from the East. Balthasar sets up a tent in the desert, where he is joined by Melchior, a Hindu, and Gaspar from Athens. They discover they have been brought together by their common goal. They see a bright star shining over the region, and take it as a sign to leave, following it through the desert toward the province of Judaea.
At the Joppa Gate in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph pass through on their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They stop at the inn at the entrance to the city, but there is no room. Mary is pregnant and, as labor begins, they head to a cave on a nearby hillside, where Jesus is born. In the pastures outside the city, a group of seven shepherds watch their flocks. Angels announce the Christ's birth. The shepherds hurry towards the city and enter the cave on the hillside to worship the Christ. They spread the news of the Christ's birth and many come to see him.
The Magi arrive in Jerusalem and inquire for news of the Christ. Herod the Great is angry to hear of another king challenging his rule and asks the Sanhedrin to find information for him. The Sanhedrin deliver a prophecy written by Micah, telling of a ruler to come from Bethlehem Ephrathah, which they interpret to signify the Christ's birthplace.
 Part TwoBiblical references: Luke 2:51-52
Judah Ben-Hur is a prince descended from a royal family of Judaea. Messala, his closest childhood friend and the son of a Roman tax-collector, leaves home for five years of education in Rome. He returns as a proud Roman. He mocks Judah and his religion and the two become enemies. Judah decides to go to Rome for military training in order to use his acquired skills to fight the Roman Empire.
Valerius Gratus, the fourth Roman prefect of Judaea, passes by Judah's house. As Judah watches the procession, a roof tile happens to fall and hit the governor. Messala betrays Judah, who is arrested. There is no trial; Judah's family is secretly imprisoned in the Antonia Fortress and all the family property is seized. Judah vows vengeance against the Romans. He is sent as a slave to work aboard a Roman warship. On the way to the ship he meets Jesus, who offers him water, which deeply moves Judah.
 Part ThreeIn Italy, Greek pirate-ships have been looting Roman vessels in the Aegean Sea. The prefect Sejanus orders the Roman Quintus Arrius to take warships to combat the pirates. Chained on one of the warships, Judah has survived three hard years as a Roman slave, kept alive by his passion for vengeance. Arrius is impressed by Judah and finds out more about his life and his story. When the ship is attacked by pirates, it starts to sink. Arrius unlocks Judah's chains so he has a chance to survive, and Judah ends up saving the Roman from drowning. They share a plank as a raft until being rescued by a Roman ship. They return to Misenum, where Arrius adopts Judah, making him a freedman and a Roman citizen.
 Part FourJudah Ben-Hur trained in wrestling for five years in the Palaestra in Rome before becoming the heir of Arrius after his death. While traveling to Antioch on state business, Judah learns that his real father's chief servant, the slave Simonides, lives in a house in this city, and has the trust of Judah's father's possessions. Judah visits Simonides, who listens to his story but demands more proof of his identity. Ben-Hur says he has no proof, but asks if Simonides knows of the fate of Judah's mother and sister. He says he knows nothing and Judah leaves the house. Simonides hires his servant Malluch to spy on Judah to see if his story is true and to learn more about him. Malluch meets and befriends Judah in the Grove of Daphne, and they go to the games stadium together. There, Ben-Hur finds his old rival Messala racing one of the chariots, preparing for a tournament.
The Sheik Ilderim announces that he is looking for a chariot driver to race his team in the coming tournament. Judah, wanting revenge, offers to drive the sheik's chariot, as he intends to defeat Messala. Balthasar and his daughter Iras are sitting at a fountain in the stadium. Messala's chariot nearly hits them but Judah intervenes. Balthasar thanks Ben-Hur and presents him with a gift. Judah heads to Sheik Ilderim's tent. The servant Malluch accompanies him, and they talk about the Christ; Malluch relates Balthasar's story of the Magi. They realize that Judah saved the man who saw the Christ soon after his birth.
Esther, Simonides and Malluch talk together, and conclude that Ben-Hur is who he claims to be, and that he is on their side in the fight against Rome.
Messala realizes that Judah Ben-Hur has been adopted into a Roman home and his honor has been restored. He threatens to take revenge.
Meanwhile, Balthasar and his daughter Iras arrive at the Sheik's tent. With Judah they discuss how the Christ, approaching the age of thirty, is ready to enter public leadership. Judah takes increasing interest in the beautiful Iras.
 Part FiveMessala sends a letter to Valerius Gratus about his discovery of Judah, which Sheik Ilderim intercepts the letter and shares with Judah. He discovers that his mother and sister were imprisoned in a cell at the Antonia Fortress, and Messala has been spying on him. Ilderim is deeply impressed with Judah's skills with his racing horses as his charioteer.
Simonides comes to Judah and offers him the accumulated fortune of the Hur family business, of which the merchant has been steward. Judah Ben-Hur accepts only the money, leaving property and the rest to the loyal merchant. They each agree to do their part to fight for the Christ, whom they believe to be a political savior from Roman authority.
A day before the race, Ilderim prepared his horses. Judah appoints Malluch to organize his support campaign for him. Meanwhile, Messala organizes his own huge campaign, revealing Judah Ben-Hur's former identity to the community as an outcast and convict. Malluch challenges Messala and his cronies to a large wager, which, if the Roman loses, would bankrupt him.
The day of the race comes. During the race Messala and Judah become the clear leaders. Judah deliberately scrapes his chariot wheel against Messala's and Messala's chariot breaks apart. Judah is crowned winner and showered with prizes, claiming his first strike against Rome.
After the race, Judah Ben-Hur receives a letter from Iras asking him to go to the Roman palace of Idernee. When he arrives, he sees that he has been tricked. Thord, a Saxon, hired by Messala, comes to kill Judah. They duel, and Ben-Hur offers Thord four thousand sestercii to let him live. Thord returns to Messala claiming to have killed Judah, so collects money from them both. Supposedly dead, Judah Ben-Hur goes to the desert with Ilderim to plan a secret campaign.
 Part SixFor Ben-Hur, Simonides bribes Sejanus to remove the prefect Valerius Gratus from his post, who is succeeded by Pontius Pilate. Ben-Hur sets out for Jerusalem to find his mother and sister. Pilate's review of the prison records reveals great injustice, and he notes Gratus concealed a walled-up cell. Pilate's troops reopen the cell to find two women suffering from leprosy. Pilate releases them, and they go to the old Hur house, which is vacant. Finding Judah asleep on the steps, they give thanks but don't wake him. As lepers, they are to be banished, and they leave.
Amrah, the Egyptian maid who once served the Hur house, discovers Ben-Hur and wakes him. She reveals having stayed in the Hur house for all these years. Keeping touch with Simonides, she discouraged many potential buyers of the house by acting as a ghost. They pledge to find out more about the lost family. Judah discovers an official Roman report about the release of two leprous women. Amrah hears rumors of the mother and sister's fate.
Romans make plans to use funds from the corban treasury, of the Temple in Jerusalem, to build a new aqueduct. The Jewish people petition Pilate to veto the plan. Pilate sends his soldiers in disguise to mingle with the crowd, who at an appointed time, massacre the protesters. Judah kills a Roman guard in a duel, and becomes a hero in the eyes of a group of Galilean protesters.
 Part SevenBiblical references: John 1:29-34
At a meeting in Bethany, Ben-Hur and his Galileans organize a resistance force to revolt against Rome. Gaining help from Simonides and Ilderim, he sets up a training base in Ilderim's territory in the desert. After some time, Malluch writes announcing the appearance of a prophet believed to be a herald for the Christ. Judah journeys to the Jordan to see the Prophet, meeting Balthasar and Iras traveling for the same purpose. They reach Bethabara, where a group has gathered to watch John the Baptist. A man walks up to John, and asks to be baptized. Judah recognizes him as the man who gave him water at the well in Nazareth many years before. Balthasar worships the Christ.
 Part EightBiblical references: Matthew 27:48-51, Mark 11:9-11, 14:51-52, Luke 23:26-46, John 12:12-18, 18:2-19:30
During the next three years, Jesus preaches his gospel around Galilee, and Ben-Hur becomes one of his followers. He notices that Jesus chooses fishermen, farmers, and similar people, considered "lowly", as apostles. Judah has seen Jesus perform miracles, and is convinced that the Christ really had come.
During this time, Malluch has bought the old Hur house and renovated it. He invites Simonides and Balthasar, with their daughters, to live in the house with him. Judah Ben-Hur seldom visits, but the day before Jesus plans to enter Jerusalem and proclaim himself, Judah returns. He tells all in the house of what he has learned while following Jesus. Amrah realizes that Judah's mother and sister could be healed, and brings them from a cave where they are living. The next day, the three await Jesus and seek his healing for the women. Amidst the celebration of his Triumphal Entry, Jesus heals the women. When they are cured, they reunite with Judah.
Several days later, Iras talks with Judah, saying he has trusted in a false hope, for Jesus had not started the expected revolution. She says that it is all over between them, saying she loves Messala. Ben-Hur remembers the "invitation of Iras" that led to the incident with Thord, and accuses Iras of betraying him. That night, he resolves to go to Esther.
While lost in thought, he notices a parade in the street and falls in with it. He notices that Judas Iscariot is leading the parade, and many of the temple priests and Roman soldiers are marching together. They go to the olive grove of Gethsemane, and he sees Jesus walking out to meet the crowd. Understanding the betrayal, Ben-Hur is spotted by a priest who tries to take him into custody; he breaks away and flees. When morning comes, Ben-Hur learns that the Jewish priests have tried Jesus before Pilate. Although originally acquitted, the leader has been sentenced to crucifixion at the crowd's demand. Ben-Hur is shocked at how his supporters have deserted Christ in his time of need. They head to Calvary, and Ben-Hur resigns himself to watch the crucifixion of Jesus. The sky darkens. Ben-Hur offers Jesus wine vinegar to return Jesus' favor to him. Jesus utters his last cry.
Ben-Hur and his friends commit their lives to Jesus, realizing he was not an earthly king, but a heavenly king and a savior of mankind.
 EpilogueFive years after the crucifixion, Ben-Hur and Esther have married and had children. The family lives in Misenum. Iras visits Esther and tells her she has killed Messala, discovering that the Romans were brutes. After Esther tells Ben-Hur of the visit, he tries unsuccessfully to find Iras.
In the tenth year of Emperor Nero's reign, Ben-Hur is staying with Simonides, whose business has been successful. With Ben-Hur, the two men have given most of the fortunes to the church of Antioch. Now, as an old man, Simonides has sold all his ships but one, and that one has returned for probably its final voyage. Learning that the Christians in Rome are suffering at the hands of Emperor Nero, Ben-Hur and his friends decide to help. Ben-Hur, Esther, and Malluch sail to Rome, where they decided to build an underground church. It will survive through the ages and comes to be known as the Catacomb of San Calixto.