Biblical fiction is a difficult genre. There are so many expectations, limitations, and interpretations that an author must carefully weave through—all while imaginatively going “beyond the text” to bring the story to life. In recent years, Tessa Afshar has proven herself one of the most adept authors in this task. Her biblical fiction shines, whether she’s taking a well-known or obscure figure of Scripture. Her commitment to detail, research, and faithfulness to biblical revelation is evident. Daughter of Rome was my entry point to Afshar’s work (late to the party, I know…) but will not be my exit. After reading Daughter of Rome, I knew I had to talk with her about the biblical main characters—Priscilla and Aquila—and how she brought their story to life.
The Interview | Tessa Afshar
This excerpt has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the play button above or subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Josh Olds: let’s start out with the elevator pitch for the book. What is Daughter of Rome all about?
Tessa Afshar: Daughter of Rome is based on the back story of Priscilla and Aquila. And I think in the Bible, we have six verses that name Priscilla and Aquila. But we don’t have a whole lot of information. And my question was: These are the most incredibly interesting people. Their life story seems to be spellbinding. They save Paul’s life, they set up house churches in different cities in the Roman Empire, they’re expelled from Rome. So they’re very fascinating. And I wanted to examine, before they became this famous couple in the church and this influential couple, who were they and what did they have to face?
Josh Olds: These are such great characters to bring to life in this manner, because I think that, at least for myself, personally, out of all of the characters that we read about in the New Testament, it’s these two that I would love to have more information from, because their story does seem so vital to the early church and that they were so influential. One of one of my favorite themes was just in terms of their marriage relationship, the way that they meet their differences in background and the way they come together. How did you develop that storyline?
Tessa Afshar: Well, first of all, I wanted to go as deep into the Bible as I could. I write novels; novels are made up stories. They’re stories of adventure. They’re stories of deep emotion. They’re stories that bring you into a place where you are away from your real life and you have sunk into a different world. So that’s the purpose of a novel. But these characters are from the Bible and I have to honor the Bible. I’m not writing a Bible study, but I have to honor the Bible. So I needed to go deep into the Bible and discover what I could about them. So the name of Priscilla gave me a hint as to who she was.
Prisca, the Latin version of the name, is a well-known Roman name. There was a noble Roman family with that last name of Prisca. And so the question becomes: Is Priscilla actually a member of that family? … So to me, that started my adventure of “Who are these two?” She was a Roman and she belong to a Roman family. And then she has married a man who is a Jew…And he has a name that is, in Latin, Aquila, which means that to some degree his family had kind of mixed in with the world around them. But I think it’s “How do you take a Jew who is a follower of Christ, and then marry him to a Roman…What kinds of things do you have to resolve right there as saying, hello, what do you have to resolve?”
The Book | Daughter of Rome
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.
With impeccable research and vivid detail, Daughter of Rome is both an emotive love story and an immersive journey through first-century Rome and Corinth, reminding readers once again why Debbie Macomber has said that “no one brings the Bible to life like Tessa Afshar.”
The Author | Tessa Afshar
Tessa Afshar is the award-winning author of several works of historical fiction. Her novel, Thief of Corinth, was an Inspy Award finalist in the historical romance category. Land of Silence won an Inspy Award in the general fiction category and was voted by Library Journal as one of the top five Christian fiction titles of 2016. Harvest of Gold won the prestigious Christy Award in the historical romance category, and Harvest of Rubies was a finalist for the 2013 ECPA Christian Book Award for fiction. In 2011, after publishing her first novel, Pearl in the Sand, Tessa was named New Author of the Year by the FamilyFiction-sponsored Reader’s Choice Awards.
Tessa was born in Iran and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She then moved to England, where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds a Master of Divinity from Yale, where she was co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship. She served in ministry for nearly twenty years before becoming a full-time writer and speaker. Visit her online at www.tessaafshar.com.