Yesterday, someone posted a comment to my blog post on Athanasius – the Black Dwarf. This person (who remained anonymous) seemed to suggest that I had some revisionist agenda in portraying Athanasius as an Egyptian rather than a black African. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have found no evidence to prove that Athanasius was in fact black, and since he was born in Egypt I simply portrayed him as an Egyptian. Or rather, I told my illustrator how to portray him and left the matter in his hands.

I also mentioned in my earlier post that the expression “black dwarf” in reference to Athanasius became first known in 1984, in The History of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzales. I also enclosed there a link to an article explaining the situation (BTW, I don’t endorse the tone used by the author of this article in regards to Dr. Gonzales).
This recent comment, however, prompted me to write Dr. Gonzales directly, and he kindly replied. I am posting his reply here:

“Thanks for your e-mail. Actually, after that book was published I looked for the reference, and found several of his enemies mocking his stature and calling him ‘black’. But the actual phrase ‘black dwarf’ does not appear in any of the early texts. (There are some later historians who do use the phrase, and I took if from them. But the actual quote in a reliable ancient text I cannot find. I’ll have to correct it in the next edition!)

“At any rate, at that time, and among the people involved in the debates, ‘black’ did not mean what the same word now means in the US. In Egypt, it was used as a derogatory term by some among the Greeks (who had conquered Egypt some seven centuries earlier) and the Romans (who had come three centuries after the Greeks) as a pejorative way to refer to the original Coptic population. These were not ‘black’ in the sense in which it is applied to people South of the Saharan. They were fairly dark-skinned, and their hair was wavy. But they were neither as dark nor their hair as wavy as the Sudanese and other people to the south. There are many indications that Athanasius was a Copt and that he was very short.”

Dr. Gonzales approved of the illustrations in my book and the way Athanasius is portrayed.