Mesu Andrews is the Christy Award-winning author of Isaiah’s Daughter and numerous other novels, including The Pharaoh’s Daughter, Miriam, Of Fire and Lions and Love Amid the Ashes. Her deep understanding of and love for God’s Word brings the biblical world alive for readers. Mesu lives in North Carolina with her husband, Roy, and enjoys spending time with her growing tribe of grandchildren.
In this interview, Mesu talks with us about her latest Biblical fiction novel, Potiphar’s Wife.
FF: Congratulations on your 12th biblical fiction novel, Potiphar’s Wife! Potiphar’s wife is nameless in the Old Testament, mostly known as the deceptive woman who seduces Joseph. What inspired you to not only give Zuleika a name, but to tell her story? How did you find her name?
My favorite characters to write about are the unnamed or under-celebrated women of the Bible. If God thought they were important enough to include in His permanent record, I think they’re important enough to research! So, my research usually begins like most people—I Google it! I was more than a little shocked to find Potiphar’s wife named in both the Quran and Ginzberg’s, Legends of the Jews (Vol. 2). Her story with Joseph in those documents bordered on comical, but I included some of the details in Potiphar’s Wife since the recounting was so similar in both Muslim and Jewish traditions.
FF: Can you give us a brief overview of Zuleika’s journey in Potiphar’s Wife?
When an earthquake nearly destroys the Isle of Crete and kills many of those she loves, Princess Zuleika of Crete relinquishes her future as Minoan queen and travels to Egypt. Though willing to become Pharaoh’s wife if he’ll restore her homeland to its former beauty, she’s appalled when Egypt’s giant king agrees to send aid but passes her off to his best friend, the captain of his royal bodyguard. Potiphar, too, is displeased. As a lifelong soldier and contented bachelor, he’s offended when Zully makes it clear she’s humiliated by a husband with no royal title. In Egypt’s cauldron of political turmoil, Zully’s childhood friend finds his way to Potiphar’s villa and inserts himself into her life—but is he the savior she needs? Her longing for home and what might have been becomes her only focus, blinding her to the good gifts Elohim has given her. Zully will do anything—to anyone—to return to Crete, and it costs her everything.
FF: The book also follows Zuleika’s maid, Ahira, the biblical hero, Joseph, and Zuleika’s husband, Potiphar. Which character do you connect with the most?
I LOVE Ahira. She’s the one I found myself rooting for as I wrote the book. Maybe she’s a little bit of a female Joseph story—but in a fictional character that I could play with a little more freely. Because Joseph is often referred to as an Old Testament Christ-figure—someone who points to Jesus’s coming through their character or storyline—I needed to be sooooo careful how I portrayed him! With Ahira, however, I could show that she was betrayed as Joseph was. She grew angry and bitter, maybe even questioned God. She’s a little ahead of Joseph in her suffering—and in her victory over it—so he learns from her on occasion. That was fun to write!
FF: A stand-out quote from the book comes from Ahira, who tells Zuleika, “Love doesn’t humiliate or hurt.” Can you expand on this statement and why it is not only necessary for Zuleika to hear, but for women today?
A lot of us have been in “loving” relationships—by choice or by blood—that have been humiliating and hurtful. Placing a label on a relationship (Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter, Brother, Sister, Husband, Wife, Friend) doesn’t automatically make it loving. But we can assess love in those relationships by the actions and responses of ourselves and others. I felt it necessary for Zully to hear what love was not because she’d never seen what real love was. Her royal parents had a strange view of a marriage and parenting (taking into consideration the cultural differences). Egypt had no stellar examples. Thankfully, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us a lot of things love is. If we haven’t seen it or experienced it in our own lives, Jesus’s example of love gives us a template: a life focused on others and a heart attuned to our Heavenly Father’s voice.
FF: During your research, what did you learn about the biblical hero Joseph that surprised you? What do you hope readers take away from his character in this story?
We know from Gen. 37:2 that Joseph was seventeen when he was sold into slavery and that he was thirty years old when he was released from prison (Gen. 41:46). I had thirteen years to work with—no parameters from Scripture or history—to describe his life in Potiphar’s household and the circumstances surrounding Zully’s (Zuleika’s) false accusation. That’s a lot of time to fill! I gave him Ahira to show that Joseph was no “choir boy.” He felt the normal desires of a man for a woman and knew how to love well. The thing that surprised me most was the Rabbinic teaching on Joseph’s level of temptation—that he was thoroughly tempted by Zully’s repeated offers. I NEVER thought of Joseph as being tempted. But why wouldn’t he be? Even if he was a ‘Christ-figure,’ as described in question #3 above, we know Jesus was tempted but didn’t sin. When I read and re-read Gen. 39:6-20, I noticed Joseph explained his reasons for refusing on every occasion—except the one time Zully caught him by the cloak. That time he simply ran. I felt in my spirit that that time might have been different. That time—he might have been too tempted if he’d paused to speak. I’d never considered such a thing before crawling inside Joseph’s skin to write his character. It may or may not be true. The Bible leaves it open to our interpretation—to our need at the time we read it.
The Egyptian Chronicles Series #1
Genres: Biblical Fiction, Historical Romance
Release Date: May 24, 2022
One of the Bible’s most notorious women longs for a love she cannot have in this captivating novel from the award-winning author of Isaiah’s Legacy.
Before she is Potiphar’s wife, Zuleika is the daughter of a king and the wife of a prince. She rules the isle of Crete alongside her mother in the absence of their seafaring husbands. But when tragedy nearly destroys Crete, Zuleika must sacrifice her future to save the Minoan people she loves.
Zuleika’s father believes his robust trade with Egypt will ensure Pharaoh’s obligation to marry his daughter, including a bride price hefty enough to save Crete. But Pharaoh refuses and gives her instead to Potiphar, the captain of his bodyguards: a crusty bachelor twice her age, who would rather have a new horse than a Minoan wife.
Abandoned by her father, rejected by Pharaoh, and humiliated by Potiphar’s indifference, Zuleika yearns for the homeland she adores. In the political hotbed of Egypt’s foreign dynasty, her obsession to return to Crete spirals into deception. When she betrays Joseph—her Hebrew servant with the face and body of the gods—she discovers only one love is worth risking everything.
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