To Sheik Ilderim the story was not new. He had heard it from the three wise men together under circumstances which left no room for doubt; he had acted upon it seriously, for the helping a fugitive escape from the anger of the first Herod was dangerous. Now one of the three sat at his table again, a welcome guest and revered friend. Sheik Ilderim certainly believed the story; yet, in the nature of things, its mighty central fact could not come home to him with the force and absorbing effect it came to Ben-Hur. He was an Arab, whose interest in the consequences was but general; on the other hand, Ben-Hur was an Israelite and a Jew, with more than a special interest in- if the solecism can be pardoned- the truth of the fact. He laid hold of the circumstance with a purely Jewish mind.
From his cradle, let it be remembered, he had heard of the Messiah; at the colleges he had been made familiar with all that was known of that Being at once the hope, the fear, and the peculiar glory of the chosen people; the prophets from the first to the last of the heroic line foretold him; and the coming had been, and yet was, the theme of endless exposition with the rabbis- in the synagogues, in the schools, in the Temple, of fast-days and feast-days, in public and in private, the national teachers expounded and kept expounding until all the children of Abraham wherever their lots were cast bore the Messiah in expectation, and by it literally, and with iron severity, ruled and moulded their lives.
Doubtless, it will be understood from this that there was much argument among the Jews themselves about the Messiah, and so there was; but the disputation was all limited to one point, and one only- when would he come? Disquisition is for the preacher; whereas the writer is but telling a tale, and that he may not lose his character, the explanation he is making requires notice merely of a point connected with the Messiah about which the unanimity among the chosen people was matter of marvellous astonishment: he was to be, when come, the KING OF THE JEWS- their political King, their Caesar. By their instrumentality he was to make armed conquest of the earth, and then, for their profit and in the name of God, hold it down forever. On this faith, dear reader, the Pharisees or Separatists- the latter being rather a political term- in the cloisters and around the altars of the Temple, built an edifice of hope far overtopping the dream of the Macedonian. His but covered the earth; theirs covered the earth and filled the skies; that is to say, in their bold boundless fantasy of blasphemous egotism, God the Almighty was in effect to suffer them for their uses to nail him by the ear to a door in sign of eternal servitude.
Returning directly to Ben-Hur, it is to be observed now that there were two circumstances in his life the result of which had been to keep him in a state comparatively free from the influence and hard effects of the audacious faith of his Separatist countrymen.