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.
Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic Advance Readers’ Copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.
I am always amazed at how authors can create a tale from just a couple of sentences. Potiphar’s wife is mentioned in one story in the Old Testament, never to be seen again after her role in Joseph’s life. More detail, including her name, is given in Jewish sources and Islamic tradition. In her Author’s Note at the end, Mesu Andrews states she consulted over a hundred resources to create what she calls “informed fiction.”
Since I’ve read many of Andrews’ earlier novels, I approached this one without knowing much about it other than the title. The first I knew of a possible Minoan connection, therefore, was the map at the start which included the Minoan palaces on the island of Crete. And, although I’d heard of the culture before, I’d never thought about when it would’ve existed in relation to Joseph and his story. Come to find out, Minoan frescos have been discovered in Egypt, and in the ancient city where Potiphar’s Wife is set. Besides the map, there’s also a list of characters and a glossary of Greek, Hebrew, and Egyptian terms. All came in useful during my reading.
Potiphar’s Wife is divided into three sections and, by the end of part one, I liked Zuleika. Her chapters are all written in the first-person perspective. At the start of the story, she’s a joyful creature, eagerly awaiting the return of her husband from his sea travels. But their reunion is short and, by the end of the day, she’s both motherless and a widow. Crete lies in ruins. She has only two options: marry the brother of her deceased love, or travel to Egypt and become part of a political marriage. She chooses the latter and must adjust to living in a culture where women aren’t as highly regarded as in Crete. She is treated in contempt by the other wives of Pharoah’s courtiers. Her new husband leaves her for almost a year after just one week of marriage. Her friend from home manipulates and betrays her. I found it difficult to see her as the manipulative woman in the Bible.
But although I liked her initially, I grew tired of her incessant whining about wanting to return home to Crete. I understood a little about her situation. Like her, I’ve moved to a different country, without friends, trying to adapt to a different culture, and unable to return home easily. I resolved to make the best of it. It wasn’t my husband’s fault; I chose to marry him. Admittedly, I knew him before I married him, and I’ve never had a palace as a gilded prison. But I also felt Zuleika was unfair to her slave, who had no choice to leave home, and who had to obey her mistress’s every command. I’m sure she missed her home as well, even though she’d been in a desperate situation there. And when the pivotal scene took place, the one we all know from the Bible, I didn’t understand her. Was she trying to make Potiphar jealous? Was she trying to manipulate Joseph? Whatever she was trying to accomplish, I’m not sure it worked.
My sympathies finally landed with Potiphar. Here was a man in a tenuous position, who had never wanted to marry, but who had been forced to do so by his pharaoh. He didn’t know how to be a husband, and he was being judged against his deceased predecessor. At the same time, he was investigating reports of treason and trying to hold onto his job and life. He was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
But of course, this is fiction. Who knows how I would feel if we knew the absolute facts of this people? Who was Potiphar? Who was Zuleika? What were they really like? What did they really do? Andrews’ writing is so powerful, however, that her fictionalized portrayals evoked strong emotions in me. And then there was how she ended Potiphar’s Wife. Part of it, Zuleika’s outcome, was unexpected. But my heart broke for Joseph as he expected shortly leaving his prison, because I knew that wasn’t to be.
A sequel to Potiphar’s Wife is due to be published this time next year. The focus will be on Joseph and his wife. I wonder if we’ll read more concerning the repercussions of the actions of this whiny princess…
Publication Date: 24 May 2022
Mesu Andrews is the Christy Award-winning author of Isaiah’s Daughter whose deep understanding of and love for God’s Word brings the biblical world alive for readers. Andrews lives in North Carolina with her husband Roy. She stays connected with readers through newsie emails, fun blog posts, and frequent short stories.
Potiphar’s Wife is set in Avaris, the Hyksos capital of Egypt. Thanks to archaeological excavations begun in the 19th century, we now know that Avaris was located at the modern location of Tell el-Dab’a in the northeastern region of the Nile Delta. The Hyksos (“ruler(s) of foreign lands”) themselves are thought to have come from ancient Canaan, although not as invaders.
Although Mesu Andrews wrote Zulieka as being Minoan, it’s possible she was actually from Cush (modern day Ethiopia). Does Avaris have a connection to Crete? Absolutely. The fresco portion above was found among the ruins of the ancient city, showing that Minoan cultural influences definitely extended as far as northern Egypt.