NOTE: This review was written under a previous rating system. Some of the older reviews may express opinions and judgment calls that are not in line with our current standards.2006
Michael O. Sajbel
for violence, some sensuality and thematic elements
Fiction based on biblical events is kind of a hazardous thing. Even if you absolutely love the stuff, you have to admit, mistakes and inaccuracies have much more serious consequences when you’re trying to supplement the Bible. And even when the fictional story is actually trying to follow the biblical one fairly closely, with the goal of fleshing it out, there’s still a pretty good chance there are going to be some mistakes made. Bible-based fiction is in a somewhat tricky category right from the start. But a piece of fiction that’s loosely based on another piece of fiction that was based on the biblical account? That’s downright dangerous. It’s like playing a game of “telephone” with the Word of the living God—except that, in a real game of telephone, you’d need to get a lot more players involved to end up with these kinds of distortions. And in the case of One Night with the King, more distortion really doesn’t make it more entertaining.
So, here you go: the differences between One Night with the King and the book of Esther… and a few other comments about the movie.
Scripture is taken from the King James, or Authorized Version of the Bible, with alternative translations from the English Standard Version in the footnotes, when necessary. Emphasis within the scripture passages is added.
1 Samuel 15:1-31 - The story of Saul’s disobedience in sparing Agag, the ancestor of Haman. It’s rather a lengthy passage, so I won’t put it all down here, but read it some time and compare the conversation between Saul and Samuel with this:
Samuel: “What dark portent bid me haste across this land of ours?”
Saul: “How would you accuse me now, O prophet? I carried out your Lord’s commands.”
Samuel: “Then why do my ears ring with the lowing of oxen and the bleating of sheep?”
Soldier: “Your majesty—the Amalekite queen; she has escaped.”
Saul: “We have the king. What is one woman?”
Samuel: “You fool! She is with child.”
That’s it. That’s supposed to be verses 13-31. For one thing, the dialogue is nothing like the Bible, except for the bit about the sheep and oxen. For another, verse 8 specifies that Saul “took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword,” which does not leave room for the queen to have escaped at that time, while verses 5-7 make it fairly clear that Saul was only dealing with a portion of the Amalekites, making it unnecessary to use an escaped queen to explain away Haman’s descent from Agag later on.
1 Samuel 10:23 - “And they ran and fetched him [Saul] thence: and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward.” Saul also seems to have shrunk between the time he was proclaimed king and the time he got into the movies. He appears to be shorter than Samuel, actually.
1 Samuel 1:11 - “And she [Samuel’s mother] vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed… give unto thine handmaid a man child [Samuel], then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” There is no male character in the entire movie with hair shorter than Samuel’s.
Esther 1:5 - “…the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan [Susa] the palace… seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.” The movie limits the feast to one day (or night, rather), and it is held indoors—a lot of stories up—with nary a garden in sight.
Esther 1:6 - “Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble.”1 The movie is not consistent with the Bible’s description of the floor, and there simply aren’t any hangings—even though there are hangings in other areas of the palace.
Esther 1:10-11 - “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains [eunuchs]… To bring Vashti the queen before the king…” In the movie, the king is pensive—not merry—and has been all evening; he just got to the banquet, himself, made a mild joke, smiled a tiny bit, and had a sip of wine. When it’s suggested that Vashti be brought in, he gets even farther away from “merry”. He then commands Hegai [Hege in the KJV] to bring Vashti (and no, Hegai is not listed as one of the seven).
Esther 1:16 - “And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that [are] in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.” In the movie, Admatha, one of the bad guys, not Memucan, says this.
Esther 1:19 - “If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written…” Memucan does say this part in the movie, except that his line says that “A royal edict must be issued,” and leaves out the “if it please the king” part, making it sound like the king was forced by law to divorce Vashti. This is the first, but not the last, time the story is changed from the scriptural account to make the king into a nicer person.
Esther 1:21 - “And the saying pleased the king…” If it pleased him in the movie, he hid it really, really well. It looked a lot more like wrath.
Esther 2:2 - “Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king.” In the movie, it goes like this: “The princes did indeed press upon Xerxes [Ahasuerus—same fellow, different language], the king, soon to leave for war, leave behind a queen to keep the people unified.” This doesn’t sound too dissimilar, until you get to verse 4.
Esther 2:4 - “And the thing pleased the king.” In the Bible, the servants are responding to the king’s remembering Vashti, by suggesting a replacement. In the movie, the king is very displeased by the suggestion, but is forced to go along with it—again, making the king conform to our modern idea of a romantic hero.
Esther 2:7 - “And he [Mordecai] brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter.” That would make him her cousin. In the movie, he is her uncle.
Esther 2:9 - “And the maiden pleased him [Hegai], and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her… seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king’s house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women.” This is replaced by Hegai, learning that Esther knew how to read, giving her scrolls from the king’s library—scrolls containing one of her favorite stories, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Since Gilgamesh is mentioned positively a number of times in One Night with the King, it should probably be noted here that Gilgamesh is a Babylonian story filled from beginning to end with pagan elements, including polytheism, temple prostitutes, and an extremely warped view of life, death, immortality and salvation. The gods and goddesses in the Epic of Gilgamesh were, incidentally, still being worshiped during the time of Esther.2 That would be like a modern Christian girl’s favorite books (other than the Bible) being the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and the Analects of Confucius.
Esther 2:13-14 - “Then thus came every maiden unto the king… In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women…” The Bible implies that something happened between the girl’s coming and going, so for the movie to imply that nothing happened was already a little iffy (okay, a lot iffy). Even aside from that, the Bible definitely doesn’t allow for horseback riding to be substituted for spending the night with the king, or even for the girl to get sick at her stomach and have to leave while it’s still evening.
It should probably also be mentioned that, despite all the effort to avoid sexual content (except for the bare-bosomed, bare-shouldered women, the shirtless men and the passionate kissing that went on between them), the movie still uses the phrase “one night with the king” often enough that all the adults (and a few educated children) are going to understand that fornication was the plan. This makes it extremely awkward when Esther’s friend finds a way for them both to escape before Esther has to go in to the king, and Esther categorically refuses to leave because she might be chosen queen. By choosing to stay, she is deliberately acquiescing to sexual immorality. It’s even more awkward when you contrast that little swallow-a-camel detail with her strain-at-a-gnat adherence to the Mosaic dietary laws, and with her prayer in the moment of crisis “Obedient I have been. I walked before you with a loyal heart. And now I stand in the hour of trouble precisely because of my obedience”—making it sound like fornication was perfectly within the realm of obedience, or even equating it with obedience, in a roundabout way.
Ester 2:16 - “So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month… in the seventh year of his reign.” Compare with Esther 1:3 - “In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants…” Four years passed, according to the Bible, between those two events, and the movie very clearly shrinks the time down to one year.
Esther 2:21 - “In those days… two of the king’s chamberlains [eunuchs], Bigthan and Teresh… were wroth, and sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus.” In the movie, they are only mildly frustrated; money was the rest of the motive.
Esther 2:22 - “And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai’s name.” In the movie, she tells the king’s advisor, who makes sure the king doesn’t know about it until after the villains are captured.
Esther 3:2-6 - “But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him [Haman] reverence… Now it came to pass, when they [the king’s servants] spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman… for he [Mordecai] had told them that he was a Jew…” The movie has Haman himself confronting Mordecai about not bowing to him, and Mordecai himself telling Haman that he was a Jew.
Esther 3:8-9 - “And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people… among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer [tolerate] them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver… to bring it into the king’s treasuries.” In One Night with the King, Haman actually tries to stir up contention against the Jews by saying how similar their laws were to those of Persia’s enemy, the Greeks. And he does that by claiming that “The Jews and the Greeks both believe in this same doctrine—all men are created equal,” as if the two nations’ concepts of equality, what it means and in what sense it exists, were anything like similar. Haman goes on to say, “Their prophets even speak of a coming king who will rule over all kings, and set all men free. Is not that the essence of democracy?” In my humble opinion, and according to the dictionary, absolutely not. Besides, since that’s the only nod to the Messiah, it is at best very unfortunate that it’s a skewed one. On top of that, one of the main reasons Haman gives for annihilating the Jews (in the movie) is that the king will be able to plunder their goods to gain financial capital for Persia—which would have seemed rather unnecessary after Haman’s bribe of approximately 750,000 pounds of silver… which didn’t happen in the movie.
Esther 5:1-2 - “…and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house [or, the throne room], over against the gate of the house… And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So [or, then] Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre.” The Bible makes it fairly plain that the king was over here, and he saw Esther over there, welcomed her with his scepter, and then, after that, she approached him. In the film, Esther (dripping wet, barefoot and slouching, incidentally) opens the doors of the throne room, the king sees her, she approaches, the guard is just about to cut off her head, and then, after she faints, the king finally makes up his mind that he doesn’t want to have her executed, and holds out his scepter over an unconscious Esther. You can’t even see the court from the throne room, “favor” is kind of a strong word for the situation, and Esther doesn’t even have an opportunity to touch the tip of the scepter.
Esther 5:3 - “Then said the king unto her, What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.” See, that last phrase makes the king sound like he actually wants to do something for Esther. In the movie, though, the king has become bitter and distrustful of Esther, which was incompatible with the last part of that verse.
Esther 5:4 - “And Esther answered, If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.” The verb tense sure seems to indicate a past action, and maybe a little forethought. In One Night with the King, Esther only gets the idea for the banquet a couple of seconds before she invites the king to it, obviously without time to “have prepared” anything.
Esther 5:9 - “Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart…” As good as the king was at hiding how merry and pleased he was, Haman wins the award for acting in my opinion. He’s actually even more bitter and distrustful of Esther than the king was a few minutes ago, which means that he definitely wasn’t going to go boast about her invitation in front of his wife and friends… like the next verse says he did.
Esther 5:10-12 - “Nevertheless Haman refrained himself: and when he came home, he sent and called for his friends, and Zeresh his wife. And Haman told them of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king. Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king.” In the movie, Haman doesn’t seem to have any friends, poor man. And since he’s just spent a whole scene explaining to the king why Esther must be going to use this banquet as a political trap, and why it’s such a bad idea to attend (although an even worse idea not to attend), it really wouldn’t have made sense for Haman to go on in the next scene to rejoice over being the only other man invited. Apart from its actually being wrong to change the biblical account for the sake of entertainment, the original story was a lot more dramatic.
Esther 5:14 - “Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him…” Again, not only did his friends not say that to him, they weren’t even there… and apparently didn’t even exist.
Esther 5:4-7 - This passage is just missing. Well, a lot of passages are missing from the movie, but this one is made to look like it never happened. It’s the part of the biblical narrative when Esther, having just touched the golden scepter after the throne room scene, invites the king and Haman to a banquet, and they come, and the king asks her again what her request is. And she invites them to another banquet. Then Haman goes forth joyful and with a glad heart. Once again, the king’s bitterness and distrust toward Esther would not have worked unless they took out this passage, because, in the movie, he was already so fed up with her mysteries and secrets that he would probably have refused to attend the second banquet.
Esther 7:2-3 - “And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom. Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request…” Yet again, the king fails to make even a reluctant, diplomatic nod to the half-of-my-kingdom line. And, while Esther does go on to say just about exactly what her line is given as in the next verse, it’s only after going through an anticlimactic speech beginning with “My petition is that you allow me to finish a story”—which goes into a subplot none of us have time for me to comment on here.
Esther 7:5 - “Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart [has dared] to do so?” Not even in the movie. The king is still bitter and distrustful at this point—more upset by the fact that she’s still never told him who her people are than by her claim that somebody’s out to kill her (so much for the romantic hero).
Esther 7:6 - “And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.” Wow! What an actor! It looked more like Esther was the one who was afraid, and like Haman was the one standing there in triumph. Amazing.
Now, there was a different subplot added in at the beginning of the movie that comes to fruition here at the end—nothing significant; just a crystal pendant that [anachronistically] reflects [anachronistic]3 stars of David around the room when you hold it close to a light. Esther’s saying that “It is my past, my present and my future” wasn’t so terribly problematic, when taken by itself. Mordecai’s giving her back the lost pendant after asking her to risk her life by going before the king, so that the pendant—not Mordecai—seems to be the clinching part of his argument, still wasn’t all that horrible. But here, at the climax of the film, when Haman and the king don’t believe her when she claims to be a Jew (unbiblical element, right there), Esther holds up the pendant in the candlelight and proves her ethnicity by showing them the stars of David spinning around them. Here are the two problems with this part: 1) Haman can’t see the stars at all, and it’s uncertain whether or not the king can see them. Apparently, you can only see the reflection from this crystal pendant if you have enough faith—a completely unbiblical concept of inanimate objects… or anything else, really. 2) Once again, the pendant is the clincher. The king comes back and sides with Esther simply because, he says, “I saw them. I saw the stars.” As if it wasn’t established thoroughly enough before, at this point they’re not really telling the same story any more. Okay, back to your Bible study.
Esther 7:7 - “And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request [beg] for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil [harm] determined against him by the king.” Yes, Haman begs Esther for his life, but it’s in a mocking, triumphant, sensual way, leaving no possibility that he meant a word of it. And if he saw “evil determined against him by the king,” he was a lot more perceptive, I’m thinking, than anybody in the audience… maybe even than the king.
Esther 7:8 - “Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed [couch] whereon Esther was. Then said the king, Will he force [assault] the queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.” Rather than have Haman throw himself at Esther in his desperation (remember, there’s no desperation in the movie for him to be in), they have him try to strangle her. She’s standing. So is he. And, as dramatic and climactic as it would have been for the movie to show Haman’s face being covered, it skips the whole thing and just shows him being dragged off—after the word went out of the king’s mouth.
Esther 7:9 - “And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon.”4 It is Memucan who says this in the movie, not Harbona (who, apparently, doesn’t exist).
Esther 9:7-9 - “And Parshandatha, and Dalphon, and Aspatha, And Poratha, and Adalia, and Aridatha, And Parmashta, and Arisai, and Aridai, and Vajezatha, The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they; but on the spoil laid they not their hand.” Haman’s ten sons are mentioned in the movie, but they’re portrayed as being young children (in order to make Haman a young villain, perhaps), and are not mentioned as having been slain—a problematic omission only because the added-in parts of the movie don’t allow for that passage to be even a possibility.
Esther 9:13 - “Then said Esther, If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do to morrow also according unto this day’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows.” Get ready for a shock. This verse didn’t make it into the movie. Incidentally, to be “hanged upon the gallows” in the Persian empire was to be impaled on a stake. Again, these are problematic omissions because they are actually incompatible with the way the rest of the movie is put together.
Esther 9:16 - “But the other Jews that were in the king’s provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of their foes seventy and five thousand, but they laid not their hands on the prey [plunder].” Another shock. The movie leaves out that little detail about the good guys killing 75,000 bad guys… which wouldn’t have gone very well with the minor anti-war subplot.
In One Night with the King, the main character points out that love is the greatest commandment. And while her parenthetical “no matter what God one serves” might be a little disconcerting, her original statement remains true. The greatest commandment is to love—to love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The more you love the Lord, the more you will love his word. If we really love the part of God’s word that says A, B and C, we can’t help but not love the parts in the movie where they turn A upside down, replace B with Z, and try to make C look like it never happened. And in One Night with the King, that would be a very large part of the movie.
It is not my belief that Christians who have seen and enjoyed One Night with the King do not love the Lord their God. Of course they do. It may be that Christians who enjoy One Night with the King didn’t catch the distortions in it. Or, they may have never really thought about how significant those distortions really are. Hopefully, the case is not that they already know full well about the distortions and are trying to defend an indefensible position: that it is good to change the truth of God into a lie.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”5 Does playing telephone with the book of Esther help us do that—obey the greatest commandment? I think not. I definitely think not. But, more importantly, what do you think?
1 Alternative translation from the English Standard Version: “There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones.”
2 Exodus 23:13 - “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.”
Joshua 23:7 - “That ye come not among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow yourselves unto them.”
Psalm 16:4 - “Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.”
Zechariah 13:2 - “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.”
3 The Star of David was not used as a symbol of Judaism until the Middle Ages. Esther lived during the fifth century, B.C.
4 Alternative translation from the English Standard Version: “Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, "Moreover, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman's house, fifty cubits high.’” The phrase “‘Hang him on it.’” is placed in verse 10 in the ESV.
5 Matthew 22:37-38, English Standard Version