Judah is a prince living in Jerusalem. When his childhood friend, Messala, arrives back from Rome to take over the province, he believes his people's luck with the Romans has changed and the cruelty bestowed upon them will be more lax.
Messala has other ideas and, after Judah fails to cooperate, Messala finds his excuse to arrest Judah - along with his sister and mother. Judah is sent to work as a slave rower on the galleons, while his sister and mother are sent into prison.
After 3 years on the galleon, Judah is freed after he saves the life of the Roman fleet commander. From there, he begins his quest back to Jerusalem to find his family and avenge his exile.
As once the highest costing film produced - $15,000,000 - Ben-Hur pushed the boundaries of theatrical production as much as possible. It offered 365 speaking parts (73 credited), and the chariot racing scene accounted for 15,000 extras and 18 acres of land. These numbers should aid in understanding exactly how big this film was - made bigger by the fact that the film is now over 50 years old.
The film was rewarded with 11 academy awards and helped to save MGM from bankruptcy for another 50 years. The biggest reward you could give it is 3 and a half hours of your time to appreciate the sheer effort and determination by William Wyler to make his film a success.
Oh, and don't forget ice cream for the interval.