"A useful, engaging contribution to scholarship in several fields, such as American literature, cultural studies, reception studies, and religious history."—Australasian Journal of American History
"This book has something for everyone, from the pop culture enthusiast to the academic scholar, and it will be an especially welcome addition to film and religion studies, to the study of American popular culture, and to scholars interested in the various genres of media."—Martin J. Manning, Northeast Popular/American Culture Association
"The editors have generated a fascinating volume that includes biblical studies and inspired bestsellers (e.g., Charles M. Sheldon’s In His Steps); higher biblical critics’ quests for authors and origins; and nineteenth-century church history, race, gender, consumer, and familial issues, not to mention cinematic preaching. Yet they keep to the text and its generativity, providing a clear, engaging story of the author, his book, his times, and the rippling effects of the narrative today, even on MTV and in shopping malls. The work not only celebrates the iconic status of Ben-Hur, but it also tells us everything we wanted to know about Ben-Hur, and more."—Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"Barbara Ryan and Milette Shamir’s collection of essays demonstrates the rich complexity gained in studying a network of adaptations not in terms of their fidelity to an original, but instead as products of and mirrors to cultural trends….It delivers on its promise to fuse an examination of adaptation with rich considerations of audience."—Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History Journal
"Bigger than Ben-Hur will be of interest to scholars of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary studies (in both US and comparative traditions), religious studies, classics, dramatic literature and theater history, and film and media studies (especially in the area of adaptation studies). What makes the work particularly valuable today, however, is its revisiting, from these multiple perspectives, a profoundly influential American allegory that constitutes a volatile mix of religion, politics, and mass culture."—ALH Online Review
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.
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.
Series: Television and Popular Culture
6 x 9, 304 pages, 10 black and white illustrations