Today author Anna Patricio gives us an insight into how she went about contrusting her novel, Asenath. Enjoy!
by Anna Patricio
When I was penning my historical novel about Joseph's (the dreamer) little-known wife Asenath, my imagination knew no bounds. Hardly anyone has heard of her, not to mention that very little information is given about her. So aside from her marriage to Joseph, I was free to imagine how her life might have been like.
I did however write my novel in such a way that her life was intertwined with Joseph's even before she married him (for those of you who don't know, Pharaoh married her to Joseph after the latter successfully interpreted the king's dreams). In doing so, I stayed close to the account in Genesis. However, there are other stories of Joseph outside the Bible which inspired me as well.
One story would be a first century Greek text 'Joseph and Asenath.' This was one of the few sources I came across when I looked up Asenath. Though like my novel, this too is fiction.
This story reads almost like a fantasy or folktale, in which Asenath sees an angel who looks like Joseph and is fed honey by "sacred" bees.
I wanted to give a nod to this in my novel, but didn't know how. Then when my novel was going through the editing process, my editor pointed out to me a garden scene in which Joseph and Asenath see hordes of butterflies, and said to me, "How about we change the butterflies to bees, seeing as the Asenath legend involves bees?" I thought that was a fantastic idea, and wholeheartedly agreed.
There is also a banquet scene in my novel in which a female guest sees Joseph and is so captivated by his good looks, she accidentally cuts her hands instead of her fruit. This was inspired by a Persian retelling of Joseph's story, which elaborates on the incident between him and Potiphar's wife.
In the tale, Mrs. Potiphar's friends mock her for being so obsessed with her slave. She then decides to show them her "torture" of wanting something she cannot have. So one day, she holds a banquet and orchestrates it in such a way that Joseph will come in while her friends are slicing their fruit. When he appears, her friends are indeed mesmerised by him and slice their hands instead of the fruits. Mrs. Potiphar then tells them, "This is what I have to put up with everyday!"
I also took liberties with Asenath's parentage as well. Genesis tells us that she was the daughter of a priest. Whether she was his natural daughter or not, we don't know, so in my novel I have her as his adopted daughter. I got this idea from a Jewish folktale which has Asenath as Dinah's (Joseph's half sister) daughter, hence Joseph's niece. According to the tale, Asenath was born as a result of Dinah's
unfortunate encounter with Shechem. Dinah's brothers then took the infant Asenath out into the desert and abandoned her. Later, she was rescued by an eagle who brought her to Egypt and deposited her at the altar in Heliopolis. There, the priest found her and adopted her. Later, Joseph recognised his long-lost niece due to a special medallion she wore which was engraved with Hebrew letters.
I did not realise there were so many interesting accounts of Joseph out there. But I am glad I came across them, especially as they would later aid me in the writing of 'Asenath.'