The main character of my debut novel ‘Asenath‘ is a little-known Biblical character whose husband is extremely famous: Joseph of the coat of many colours. Because so little is known about her, the possibilities for a fictional work on her were endless. However, I stayed close to what is mentioned in the Genesis account. Aside from that, I also drew inspiration from sources outside the Bible as well.
One of these sources would be a tale from 1st century Alexandria: “Joseph and Asenath.” Apparently, some early Jews were not keen on the idea of the patriarch marrying a pagan priestess. They thus created this story chronicling Asenath’s conversion to Judaism. This story is almost like a fantasy, as it includes Asenath seeing an angel who looks like Joseph, and partaking of “sacred honey” which
thus marks her conversion.
This seems to be the most known account of Asenath outside the Bible, and I wanted to give a nod to it in my novel but didn’t know how. In revising the final draft, my editor then suggested that in a particular romantic garden scene, I change the butterflies to bees. I originally had butterflies, as I love them not to mention they are my second favourite animal after dogs. But I also thought this would be a good opportunity to incorporate the Greek tale into my novel. So I agreed.
In other part of my novel, there is also a banquet scene in Potiphar’s house in which a female guest sees Joseph and is so entranced by his appearance, she accidentally cuts her hands instead of her fruit. This was inspired from a Persian retelling of Joseph’s life – and if I am not mistaken, this scene also figures in the Quran. As we know, Potiphar’s wife desired Joseph. In the Persian tale, her friends mock her for it. So to show her friends what she has to endure everyday, she has Joseph enter during a banquet while the ladies are peeling fruits with knives. The ladies get so distracted by his good looks, that they end up slicing their hands instead! Mrs Potiphar then tells them, “See, this is what I have to put up with every day!”
And the name which I used for Potiphar’s wife in my novel – Zalikha – is a variant of the Persian story’s “Zuleika.”
I have also taken liberties with Asenath’s parentage as well. In my novel, she is originally the daughter of an Egyptian fisherman, and is later orphaned and adopted by the childless high priest and his wife. I got the idea to alter her parentage from a Jewish folktale which has Asenath as Dinah’s daughter. Dinah, as you might have heard, is the half-sister of Joseph who was unfortunately violated by a prince. In this folktale, Dinah got pregnant as a result of the incident. The baby was Asenath. Not long after she was born, Joseph’s brothers took baby Asenath into the wilderness and abandoned her there to mask their sister’s shame. An eagle then took the baby to Heliopolis, where she was adopted by the priest.
Thank you Lisa for having me here!
In 1951, Maria, along with her Mother, Step-father, and sister immigrated to America and she has lived in the greater Denver metro area since that time. Her book, The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and Back is the culmination of her 43-year search for her biological father, who disappeared shortly after her birth in war-torn Germany. Without knowing the spelling or his name, nor his date and place of birth, Maria was able to find him – proving that with unwavering determination, anything is possible.
Maria graduated from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Accounting and has also attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She has been employed by the U. S. government in several capacities throughout her Federal career, receiving many awards for her writing and investigative skills.
The above title is available from Johnson Books, an imprint of Big Earth Publishing. Her memoir will be translated into several languages, including German, Polish, and Ukrainian.
Maria and her family reside in Golden, Colorado.