Judah Ben Hur and Octavius Messala are best friends, growing up together in the Hur household in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Soon Messala is torn from the Hur family by his estranged father, a Roman senator, and called for military training in Rome. Years later, Messala returns to Jerusalem in charge of the Roman garrison. Hur, now a successful trader, is betrothed to Esther.
There is an uprising against Roman rule on the day that Pontius Pilate arrives in Jerusalem. Messala, in charge of protecting Pilate, unjustly accuses Hur’s family of causing the disturbance. Messala makes a public example of them by sending Hur to work to death as a slave in the galleys of the Roman warships, and also sends Hur’s sister and mother to prison.
Hur then spends three horrific years as a slave rower in a Roman galley ship. Believing that his mother and sister have been killed, his burning desire for revenge keeps him alive. One day, in a fiery and deadly battle with pirates, he saves the life of the Roman Admiral, Quintus Arrius. The Roman is grateful and takes Hur with him back to Rome. When Arrius dies, Judah inherits Arrius’s wealth and name, becoming the powerful Sextus Arrius. Determined to seek justice for the wrongs committed by Messala, Hur returns to Jerusalem, knowing that Messala will attend the celebrated games there.
Hur is reunited with Esther, but his obsessive need for revenge drives the couple apart. Then the perfect opportunity for Messala and Hur to battle to the death arises in the form of a chariot race. Esther is desperate for Hur not to take part, fearful that he might die before being reunited with his mother and sister. In a tense and exhilarating finale, Ben Hur and Messala take to the race track. Who will emerge victorious? And will Ben Hur find the peace he craves even if vengeance is served?