Redeeming Messala: Ben-Hur Beyond the 1959 Epic

With an exploration of “Redeeming Messala,” Dr. Howard Miller, professor emeritus from the University of Texas at Austin, joined us for one more lecture in 2018.

Ben-Hur Adaptations

It’s possible that more adaptions of Ben-Hur have appeared in the past thirty years than in the previous eighty. And their variety and geographic reach are without precedent in the adaptation history of the novel. In addition to the 2016 film, there is a novel that makes Judah Ben-Hur the villain rather than Messala, his Roman betrayer. Another novel suggests that there was foul play—murder even—during the filming of the chariot race of the silent film. An Off-Off Broadway stage play features not only Wallace’s cast of characters but also Lew Wallace himself and the alleged Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt! And what are we to make of the Ben-Hur musicals that appeared in both Orlando, Florida and, of all places, Singapore?

Redeeming Messala

In his last lecture of the year, Dr. Miller will attempt to make sense of this explosion of wildly different and far-flung adaptations. Using many video clips, he will argue that many of them were responses to the achievements of and reactions to the 1959 MGM film. He will discuss the ways in which the celebrated chariot race in the 1959 epic influenced a generation of young directors and producers of spectacular action movies, like Star Wars and Gladiator.

But he principally focused on the ways in which many of the adaptations attempt to forgive and are even redeeming Messala. The results would have no doubt astounded the General. Join us and discover how it all turns out!

Dr. Miller’s lecture ties in with the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum’s annual exhibit, Lights, Camera, Epic! Ben-Hur on Screen and Beyond. The exhibit discusses the four motion pictures made of Ben-Hur—in 1907, 1925, 1959, and 2016—as well as other adaptations, marketing, and the continued legacy of Lew Wallace’s epic novel.

Dr. Howard Miller

A dynamic speaker and award-winning educator, Dr. Miller is a leading scholar on Ben-Hur and Lew Wallace’s life. A native Texan, he taught at the University of Texas at Austin for forty years, retiring in 2011. During his time at UT Austin, he was instrumental in founding the university’s department of Religious Studies. He has been involved with the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum since 2000 and is a regular Title Sponsor for the museum’s annual TASTE of Montgomery County fundraiser.


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