Published by Tyndale on February 4, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Historical
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A woman with a devastating secret. A man bent on proving his worth. A chance encounter that catapults them into the heart of history.
When the daughter of a prominent Roman general meets a disinherited Jewish immigrant, neither one can dream of God's plan to transform them into the most influential couple of the early church. Nor can they anticipate the mountains that will threaten to bury them. Their courtship unwittingly shadowed by murder and betrayal, Priscilla and Aquila slowly work to build a community of believers, while their lives grow increasingly complicated thanks to a shaggy dog, a mysterious runaway, and a ruthless foe desperate for love. But when they're banished from their home by a capricious emperor, they must join forces with an unusual rabbi named Paul and fight to turn treachery into redemption.
Aquila and Priscilla rank as one of the most famously unknown couples in biblical history. What we know: They were kicked out of Rome—along with all other Christians—by the Emperor Claudius. They were tent-makers who worked closely with the Apostle Paul. They trained Apollos in the faith. And they were the leaders of a house church.
Beyond this, we can only speculate. But they have been upheld as an ideal couple in ministry. Priscilla provides proof that the first century gave high value to women and placed them in leadership positions. Bivocational pastors take solace that they stand in a tradition along with Priscilla and Aquila. We would all love to know more.
It’s these kinds of real-life characters that make for the very best in biblical fiction. Sure, we can speculate about some of the more famous people in Scripture, but you inevitably get locked into some theological debate or the story seems too confined because of the limits of the historical narrative. Priscilla and Aquila are precisely the kind of characters we want to know more about, and Tessa Afshar is able to paint a vivid and compelling picture of first century life.
Daughter of Rome is Priscilla’s story. Afshar imagines her as the daughter of a prominent Roman general—perhaps based on the real-life Aulus Larcius Priscus, though I don’t know that the chronology aligns exactly. With her father dead, she bears his name but not his son’s—her half-brother’s favor. She is trying to determine her place in life when she comes across a disinherited Jewish immigrant to Rome, Aquila.
The two form an unlikely friendship, then an unlikely marriage, and then, an unlikely ministry. Even when they are banished from Rome by Claudius, they find themselves working with the Apostle Paul. There are personal and public struggles—both the empire and the church have their issues—but they weather through it all. I’m being intentionally vague on the plot because it’s a journey best left to discover.
I have a love/hate relationship with biblical fiction. It’s either really good or bad. There’s no real in between. It’s a difficult line to balance. I had heard that Tessa Afshar walked that line beautifully, and now I can confirm it for myself. Afshar does not shy away from deep and difficult issues. This isn’t a flannelgraph Sunday School imagining.
Richly researched and immaculately detailed, Daughter of Rome places readers into an unfamiliar world and makes them almost immediately comfortable. The difference of two thousand years and vastly different culture is notable and noticed even as the sameness of life—love and loss, in particular—plays out throughout the novel. A beautiful, beautiful book that’s going to force me to pick up the rest of her books soon.
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