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date: 29 January 2023

pagan, paganismlocked

pagan, paganismlocked

  • Michele Renee Salzman

Summary

The Latin word paganus (pagan), which originally meant “a country district or community,” could take on a more general sense as “a place with fixed boundaries.” From this early meaning, paganus evolved to mean civilian as opposed to military. Its application by Christians to those who were not of their faith has been explained variously. Some scholars derive its Christian usage based on the association of pagans with the countryside, while others see Christians using the term for the civilians as opposed to “soldiers of Christ.” Only in the 4th century do the words pagan and paganism (paganismus) emerge with the general meaning of “non-Christian.” Some scholars dispute the pejorative nature of the term at this date, but non-Christians were increasingly attacked by hostile 4th-century Christian writers. Because of this enmity and due to the misleading denigration of non-Christians as pagans, some modern scholars have refused to use the term pagan or paganism in their works. Others, however, view its usage as justified, especially given the hostility of late Roman Christians to non-believers.

Subjects

  • Christianity
  • Greek Myth and Religion
  • Roman Myth and Religion

Updated in this version

Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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