Pagans, the backward others

The word “Pagan”. It seems innocuous.

L.L. paganus “pagan,” in classical L. “villager, rustic, civilian,” from pagus “rural district,” originally “district limited by markers,” thus related to pangere “to fix, fasten”.

But it is “Rural” as in backward, not of the cultural city. Not salt-of-the-earth, upholder-of-the-old-ways rural. And “Civilian”, not not-a-fighter, but the bad recruit.

Its first use by a Christian is Tertullian’s, at the beginning of the third century but his was metaphor with Christians as soldiers, others out of the fight. Back then, unbeliever as rural made no sense in cities that championed their gods, unbeliever as ignorant even less sense, when traditional philosophy owned wisdom.

“Pagan” as “backward other” is a fourth century thing. The end of the century. Then it appears in the law codes and turn to the next century and Augustine likes it. There are Christians and Jews and all others, the Pagans. Like the Jews, they are pigheaded, holdouts who wouldn’t accept Jesus. Many were in the countryside. Pagans. Backward.

Some say “Pagan” birthed “Heathen”. When the bible was translated into Gothic, a word derived from “dwelling on the heath” was used to capture its unaccepting, unbelieving others. The Heathens. The Pagans.

What would Porphyry think? At the start of the 4th, he owned subtlety, could demolish any argument. “Now I’m what? A Pagan? A Heathen? Explain that to me.” 

“Pagan”, the end of the century “N-Word”.

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