Bigger than Ben-Hur

The Book, Its Adaptations, and Their Audiences

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Barbara Ryan, Milette Shamir
  • Syracuse, NY: 
    Syracuse University Press
    , January
     269 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This book has been reviewed in JAAR, along with Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and His Times via Monty Python's Life of Brian and Coen: Framing Religion in Amoral Order, by Terry Lindvall.

First published in 1880, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ became a best-seller. The popular novel spawned an 1899 stage adaptation, reaching audiences of over 10 million, and two highly successful film adaptations. For over a century, it has become a ubiquitous pop cultural presence, representing a deeply powerful story and monumental experience for some and a defining work of bad taste and false piety for others. The first and only collection of essays on this pivotal cultural icon, Bigger Than "Ben-Hur" addresses Lew Wallace's beloved classic to explore its polarizing effect and to expand the contexts within which it can be studied. In the essays gathered here, scholars approach Ben-Hur from multiple directions- religious and secular, literary, theatrical, and cinematic-to understand not just one story in varied formats but also what they term the "Ben-Hur tradition." Drawing from a wide range of disciplines, contributions include the rise of the Protestant novel in the United States; relationships between and among religion, spectacle, and consumerism; the "New Woman" in early Hollywood; and a "wish list" for future adaptations, among others. Together, these essays explore how this remarkably fluid story of faith, love, and revenge has remained relevant to audiences across the globe for over 130 years.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Barbara Ryan is associate professor in the University Scholars Programme at the National University of Singapore. She is the author of Love, Wages, Slavery and a coeditor of Reading Acts.

Milette Shamir is senior lecturer in English and American studies at Tel Aviv University. She is the author of Inexpressible Privacy: The Interior Life of Antebellum American Literature and coeditor of Boys Don’t Cry? Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the U.S.


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