The historical novelist on why she wrote a biblical novel about “the many gaps left by our love.”

Tessa Afshar is the award-winning author of several historical and biblical novels. In 2011, she was named New Author of the Year in FamilyFiction’s Reader’s Choice Awards. Her latest novel, Thief of Corinth (Tyndale House), transports readers to First-Century Corinth, a city teeming with charm and corruption. When a young woman and her father’s lives hang in the balance, they befriend a Jewish rabbi named Paul, whose radical message challenges everything they’ve fought to build. In this interview, the author shares how her personal story impacted the narrative, explains why first-century Corinth was an ideal setting for her adventure, and reveals why she took a familiar Scriptural passage in an unexpected direction…

A thief? What made you want to write about such an unusual profession?

Many of Corinth’s inhabitants were on the naughty side. In his letter to the house churches he helped to build, Paul said they had been greedy, immoral, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers before Jesus grabbed hold of them (1Corinthians 6:9-11).

I wanted to write about a character that fit this mold. Someone who was a bit of a rascal with a lot of spunk and yet at the same time seemed lovable.

What are some of the central themes you explore in Thief of Corinth?

One of the themes that emerges from the story is the lingering wounds of divorce. Another thread the novel grapples with is that of broken self-esteem: the way we try to fill that void by trying to win affirmation, affection, or admiration. Perhaps the most central theme of Thief of Corinth is that of love, the fallen nature of it, the imperfection and brokenness of it, and the sole solution to all our struggles, Jesus Himself.

Why did you choose Corinth as the location of this novel?

I wanted to build a central thread of the story around 1 Corinthians 13, which meant that the story would naturally be centered in Corinth. Corinth was a fascinating city, a boom town, full of opportunity and excitement and danger.

It provided a thrilling background for a novel. My only regret is that I could not personally travel there before writing the story.

Divorce seems like a very contemporary problem, yet you write about it in a first century context. What made you choose this topic?

Divorce is not a modern invention. For thousands of years, it has plagued human relationships. Today, it has become a commonplace part of our existence but remains as damaging as ever.

Having gone through the experience of my own parents’ divorce when I was thirteen, I knew firsthand that the ensuing separations and divisions often leave a deep mark. Many of my readers have been touched by the wounds of divorce in a personal way.

I wanted to write a story to which they could relate. One they would find realistic, but ultimately encouraging.

In the next part, Tessa talks about writing stories set in Bible times—and how her unique background influences her storytelling…

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