The double conversion of Ben-Hur : A case of manipulative translation

Nitsa Ben-Ari
Tel Aviv Univresity

Ever since the 18th century revival of Hebrew literature, translation has been considered an efficient tool for ideological manipulation. Christianity has been a traditional candidate for such manipulation. Fear and hatred of the “younger” religion may have accounted for the subversive treatment of Christian elements in Hebrew texts. Strategies varied, depending on period and norm, mostly involving omission of undesirable material, but often converting the text into a more acceptable ideological type. Ben-Hur: A tale of the Christ (1880) by Lew Wallace is one of the novels most translated and most tampered with, and due to its predominantly Christian character, it can serve as an illuminating case study both for the subversion of Christian elements and for the more “creative” conversion into the “Few against Many” or “Jewish bravura against the Roman Empire” model.

Table of contents

This article will attempt to throw some light on one of the most persistent and complex problems in the history of Hebrew literary translation, that of the ambivalent attitude towards Christianity. It is part of a more comprehensive study, which includes a larger corpus of texts, that I have undertaken in recent years within the framework of research into the ideological manipulation of translations and the subversion of texts. The discussion will be divided into two parts. The first will be in the nature of an overview, describing the historical and [ p. 264 ]cultural issue from several points of view, synchronically and diachronically, in various strata of the literary system; the second will concentrate on the specific test case of Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace (1880).

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