Judah Ben-Hur gets his revenge on the boyhood friend that betrayed him while crossing the path of Jesus.
Augustus Caesar decrees that every Judean is to return to their place of birth to be counted and taxed. A census taker is asking people where they are from. After Samuel Michael, Joseph and Mary, Mother of Jesus are next in line. That night, the Star of Bethlehem flies overhead announcing the birth of Jesus as the Three Wise Men look on. The Three Wise Men then deliver presents to Jesus as a group of people look on.
26 years later, a group of Romans led by Messala march through Nazareth. Messala arrives in Jerusalem and takes command from Sextus and then tells Drusus he dreamed of commanding the garrison in Jerusalem. Sextus complains to Messala that the locals don't like paying their taxes and are very religious. He mentions a man named John drowning people in water and a carpenter's son performing miracles. A Roman Centurion tells Messala that a Jew wants to speak to him and Judah Ben-Hur is brought to speak to Messala. Messala tells Sextus that he and Ben-Hur were friends as young boys. Ben-Hur and Messala embrace and talk of Ben-Hur's family. Messala then tells Ben-Hur that he will need Ben-Hur's help and Messala is to be second in command to Valerius Gratus. Messala asks Ben-Hur to tell his people rebellion is futile and they drink a toast to each other. The next day, Messala visits Ben-Hur's mother Miriam and flirts with his sister Tirzah and gives Tirzah a brooch from Libya. Ben-Hur gives Messala a horse and Messala demands to know the names of those against Rome. They argue and Messala gives Ben-Hur an ultimatum to either help him or becomes an enemy and Ben-Hur tells Messala he is against him. Ben-Hur then tells Miriam and Tirzah that Messala wanted him to betray their people. Later, Amrah tells Ben-Hur that the caravan from Antioch has arrived and Ben-Hur greets Simonides who has brought back gifts and other items. Esther goes before Ben-Hur and asks permission to marry David son of Mathias and Ben-Hur tells her that he shall grant her freedom as a wedding gift. That night, Ben-Hur approaches Esther and she tells him how she once prayed over him when he was injured. He takes her ring from her hand and tells her he will always wear it and they kiss. The next day Valerius Gratus arrives in Jerusalem and is greeted by Messala. As they are passing by Ben-Hur's home, a ceramic roof tile falls to the ground spooking Valerius' horse which rears into the air. Valerius falls to the ground unconscious. A group of Roman soldiers enter the courtyard of Ben-Hur's home and Drusus orders Ben-Hur and his family taken away. Messala enters the courtyard and ignores Ben-Hur's plea that it was an accident. Messala inspects the roof and sees that indeed the roof tiles were loose.
Ben-Hur is jailed and marched through the desert after briefly breaking free and failing to convince Messala to let Miriam and Tirzah go free. Simonides and Esther go to see Messala and plead to him that Ben-Hur is innocent, however Messala has Drusus hold Esther and Simonides captive to be questioned. The Romans marching Ben-Hur and the other captives briefly stop in Nazareth and Jesus gives Ben-Hur water after the Roman soldiers stopped others from giving him any. The lead Roman soldier walks towards Jesus in anger but stops and stares in stupification at him. Ben-Hur is then made a rower on a galley for three years. Quintus Arrius arrives on their boat and as he is inspecting the ship he asks Ben-Hur, who he calls 41, how long he has been a rower on the ship. Quintus tells the rowers that they are all condemned men and their only purpose is to serve the ship and row. Quintus has the Hortator increase their rowing speed to battle speed, attack speed and finally ramming speed. He then watches as rowers start to collapse from exhaustion before calling rest and walking away. Quintus calls for Ben-Hur and then offers to make him a gladiator or charioteer for him in Rome, but Ben-Hur refuses. Macedonian pirates are spotted and the galley is prepared for battle and all rowers are ordered chained by Quintus except for Ben-Hur. While in combat against the pirates,their ship is rammed. Ben-Hur chokes the guard unconscious and then uses the guard's keys to free the other rowers. Quintus is knocked overboard by a pirate and Ben-Hur jumps into the ocean to save him. He puts Quintus on a piece of ship debris and they watch as the ship goes down in flames. They float in the ocean until they are picked up by a Roman ship. The captain of the ship tells Quintus that the battle was won and Quintus offers water to Ben-Hur before he takes a drink.
Quintus returns to Rome in a victory parade and is given a baton of victory by Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius orders that Ben-Hur be given to Quintus as a slave instead of being sent back to the galley. Some time later, Quintus holds a party attended by Pontius Pilate and tells the crowd that he considers Ben-Hur to be his son and that he has legally adopted Ben-Hur as his son. Pontius Pilate is introduced to Ben-Hur and Pontius Pilate tells Quintus that he is to be governor of Judea. Ben-Hur tells Quintus that he must leave and then travels back to Jerusalem. On his way, he meets Balthasar who tells him he is looking for a man about his age. They watch as Sheik Ilderim's team of horses fail to stay on a makeshift racetrack. Ben-Hur then gives Ilderim advice on how to run his chariot team and is invited to dinner. After dinner, Ilderim introduces Ben-Hur to his horses Altair, Antares, Aldebaran and Rigel. He tells Ben-Hur that when they race in Jerusalem, they will race against Messala. Ben-Hur refuses and Balthasar tells him that he knows that his plan is to kill Messala and advises him against it. Balthasar then tells Ben-Hur that God brought him years ago to see a baby just born. Ben-Hur returns to Jerusalem to find his home in ruins. He sees Esther, who is surprised to see him and she tells him her and Simonides have been living in the house in hiding. She tells Simonides that Ben-Hur is alive and Ben-Hur walks into the room and greets Simonides. Simonides then tells Ben-Hur that no one knows where Miriam and Tirzah are. Simonides introduces Ben-Hur to Malluch who spent time with him in prison. Simonides then tells him that he has kept his money away from the Romans. That night Ben-Hur and Esther talk and then hug and kiss and she tells him she didn't get married because her father needed her and she notices he is still wearing her ring. She tells him that she has heard of a rabbi that talks of forgiveness. Ben-Hur sends gifts to Messala and goes to his home. Ben-Hur demands to know where Miriam and Tirzah are, and vows to come back tomorrow to find out where they are. Messala then tells Drusus to find out what happened to Miriam and Tirzah. Drusus goes to the prison where they are held and finds out they have become lepers.
Miriam and Tirzah are released into the city and go to their home but hide when Esther opens the door. Esther walks to them but they tell her they are lepers and she tells them that Ben-Hur is alive. They tell Esther not to tell Ben-Hur they are alive due to their shame. Esther tells Ben-Hur that she saw Miriam and Tirzah dead in prison. Sheik Ilderim visits Messala and shows him a chest full of coins he plans on betting that his horses will win. Messala then bets 4 to 1 odds that he will win after Ilderim tells the Roman officers that Ben-Hur will be his charioteer. Before the chariot race, Ibrahim gives Ben-Hur a Star of David medallion. Pontius Pilate orders the start of the race after introducing the racers. A charioteer crashes, followed by the charioteer from Corinth, who is run over by another charioteer. The next to crash is the charioteer from Phrygia, and next the charioteers from Athens and Messina. With only a few laps left, Messala uses his horse whip to whip Ben-Hur, who takes it away and uses it against Messala. Messala's chariot breaks and he is run over by the charioteer from Alexandria. With Messala out of the race, Ben-Hur easily wins the race. Pontius Pilate then awards Ben-Hur the crown wreath. That night a doctor is about to remove Messala's legs when Ben-Hur arrives. Messala then tells Ben-Hur that Miriam and Tirzah are not dead, but are hiding in the Valley of the Lepers. Messala declares their race not over and then dies.
Ben-Hur goes to the Valley of the Lepers. As he is searching for Miriam and Tirzah, he sees Esther and Malluch arrive with food. Esther begs him to honor their wishes and he hides when Miriam and Tirzah start to walk up. Miriam asks Esther how Ben-Hur is doing and then thanks Esther. Ben-Hur insists on seeing Miriam and Tirzah, but is blocked by Malluch. While walking back to their home, Ben-Hur, Esther and Malluch witness a group gathering, including Balthasar, to hear Jesus preach. Esther and Malluch stay to listen to the Sermon on the Mount, while Ben-Hur leaves. Pontius Pilate tells Ben-Hur that he has been made a citizen of Rome and Ben-Hur blames Rome for everything Messala has done. Ben-Hur gives Pontius Pilate, Quintus Arrius' ring and Pontius Pilate tells him he cannot protect him if he stays in Judea. Ben-Hur returns home and Esther tells him of the teachings of Jesus, but Ben-Hur rejects them. Esther tells Ben-Hur she has lost him and walks away. Esther visits the Valley of the Lepers and Miriam tells her Tirzah is dying. Ben-Hur arrives and goes to Miriam and strokes Miriam. He grabs Tirzah and hugs her and then brings her to see Jesus as Miriam and Esther follow. In Jerusalem, a blind man tells Ben-Hur that Jesus is to be put on trial. Pontius Pilate washes his hands and Jesus is condemned to death. As Jesus is being led away carrying his cross, he falls to the ground and Ben-Hur goes to give him water. When he gets to Jesus he recognizes him as the one who once gave him water when he was a prisoner of the Romans. Ben-Hur and Balthasar then watch as Jesus is nailed to the cross. As Jesus dies, Miriam and Tirzah are cured of leprosy as rain falls. Ben-Hur returns home and is greeted by Esther followed by his now cured mother and sister, Miriam and Tirzah.