It was my honor to do an interview with Tessa Afshar! Ms. Afshar is one of the top-selling Christian fiction authors in the genre. Her books have won numerous awards in the field and her books show the love she has for the roots of Christianity. I asked Ms. Afshar about her latest work, Daughter of Rome. The novel focuses on Priscilla and Aquila, who had once brought Paul into their home for 18 months. I appreciate Ms. Afshar taking the time for my interview, and I hope you enjoy looking into the latest work by Tessa Afshar, Daughter of Rome!
What attracted you to the story of Aquila and Priscilla?
Although we know little about this extraordinary couple, what we do know is spellbinding: they saved Paul’s life, set up house churches in different cities in the Roman Empire, shared the gospel with many Gentiles, and became influential spiritual leaders through some of the most harrowing years of the church’s history.
Their marriage must have been remarkable! There is never a mention of one without the other. Priscilla and Aquila worked together, traveled together, taught together, hosted together, and ministered together. I found both their relationship and their steadfast faith inspiring.
Besides the Bible, what resources did you use for your research?
I used several biblical resources, including Bible encyclopedias as well as a wall-sized map of ancient Rome. To that, I added a number of research books that told me about life in first-century Rome, Christians and Jews living in Rome, Latin forms of address, and Corinth in the days of the apostle Paul. I also found a diminutive book on Aquila and Priscilla, describing what different scholars thought about their life and backgrounds.
One fun research project for this book included looking up original recipes from Marcus Gavius Apicius, a cooking enthusiast from the first century. I actually tried a number of these recipes and came up with contemporary versions for the modern cook. Tyndale House Publishers is making some of these available in a lovely free download, along with photos and recipes for book clubs.
What were the challenges of retelling a Bible story?
The Bible is the greatest book ever written. Something about the stories it contains has managed to grab the human heart for thousands of years. More often than not, God chooses deeply flawed men and women through whom he fulfills his purposes. That’s why so many of us can relate to them! The people and the stories captured in the Scriptures are a fantastic foundation for any novel.
At the same time, the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is our source of truth. And I am a novelist. I deal with the realm of imagination. Writing biblical fiction requires a special kind of sensitivity, along with obsessive research. As I wrote this story, I knew I had to be faithful to the biblical revelation. Even the background story that I spun for Priscilla and Aquila, although fictional, had to fit the overall message of the Bible.
What writing aspects of the story surprised you?
There are only six verses in the Bible that mention Priscilla and Aquila by name, augmented by a few more that refer to them indirectly. As a result, what we know about them is very limited. But as I dug more deeply, I was able to discover some unexpected details. I started with what I did know. Details like their names, for example.
Priscilla is a nickname for Prisca, a name that may give us a clue to this fascinating woman’s background. The male version of Prisca’s name, Priscus, was a well-known Roman appellation belonging to a noble Roman family. Did that mean Priscilla was from this family? Not necessarily. Prominent Roman households commonly named their slaves after the patriarch. So Prisca could have been a slave. But since she was married, the slave theory crumbles, since Roman slaves were not allowed to marry. Hence, Priscilla was either a member of the Priscus family or a freed slave. The latter option is less likely, since the Romans rarely freed their female slaves. To me, the most plausible option points to Priscilla being a scion of the Priscus family. The storyline deals with this heritage.
Can you tell us which characters you thought were the most fascinating?
It’s hard for a writer to pick favorites! Having said that, I did feel a special bond with Priscilla. She is the kind of woman you want for a best friend or sister or spiritual mother.
Have you learned anything new about your faith by reading about the early Christians?
I was astounded by Priscilla and Aquila’s commitment to God. They moved several times for the sake of the gospel. They were expelled from their home in Rome, and rather than sinking into self-pity or disappointment with God for allowing this hardship, they picked themselves up and began to minister in his name where they were planted. Later, when Paul asked them to uproot themselves again and go to Ephesus, they packed their baskets, and off they went without complaint.
Eventually they returned to Rome and ministered there in the brutal years under Nero’s reign. Because the verses that refer to them are few and short, we sometimes overlook their indomitable spirit and profound impact. Not only did they risk their lives for Paul, but their ministry was so far-reaching that Paul said all the churches of the Gentiles were thankful for them (Romans 16:3-4).
Priscilla and Aquila challenged my soul. They challenged me to be tougher in my faith, more resilient toward hardship and spiritual attack. They challenged me to strengthen my resolve in the Lord and accomplish what I am called to do.
What do you hope readers could take away from Priscilla and Aquila’s story?
Daughter of Rome is about two wounded people whose love for each other and for God transforms not only their own lives but the lives of friend and foe alike. Sometimes, as I wrote the story, I myself felt challenged and moved by this couple’s decisions! I hope readers will have a similar experience as they delve into the story.
Ultimately, of course, this is a novel. It’s supposed to offer the readers some fun and a healthy diversion. So I also threw in a dog with an attitude problem, a boy with a mysterious past, and some first-century-style romcom.
What are your rewards for writing Biblical fiction?
I think the best reward is knowing that readers are finding a special kinship with these characters, a kinship that draws them closer to God. They cry, they laugh, they stay up past their bedtimes to read. And when they close the book, they often tell me that they reach for their Bibles with a new thirst. That is a good day’s work.
What is your next project?
Readers first met a character named Theo in Thief of Corinth, and again in Daughter of Rome. The next novel will feature Theo as a central character, alongside a woman who stows away on his ship, intent on getting to Rome and discovering the identity of her mysterious father. Sparks fly before they finally drop anchor and move in with Priscilla and Aquila.
About the Author:
Tessa Afshar is an award-winning author of biblical fiction, including Thief of Corinth, a 2019 Inspy Award finalist; Land of Silence, which was voted by Library Journal as one of the top five Christian fiction titles of 2016; and Harvest of Gold, which won a 2014 Christy Award in the Historical Romance category. Born in Iran, Tessa spent her teen years in England and later moved to the United States. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life. She holds an MDiv from Yale Divinity School, where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship. For more information, please visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also buy Daughter of Rome at Tyndale.