Abstract

Why did Latin writers label non-Christians with a word that evoked lack of culture (paganus) while their Greek brethren used a word (Hellene) that connoted the finest education around? This article proposes that Christians who used the latter adopted it from the world of the late Second Temple period. In 2 Maccabees “Hellenism” is a straw man, used to contrast “real Judaism” with other Jews who were looked down upon for acting “Greek.” This dynamic suggests a new model for understanding the rise of paganus. Living in the wake of the so-called Edict of Milan, some Christians believed that social separation and rejection of Rome were non-negotiable aspects of Christian identity. Seeing themselves as heirs of Jewish tradition, embracing the legacy of the Maccabean martyrs who rejected aspects of Hellenistic culture, and writing in Greek, they adopted the word Hellene to disparage their more accommodating Christian peers. In Latin, the force of this argument was lost in translation. Drawing instead upon a tradition that divided “true Christian soldiers” from their more “civilian Christian peers,” Latin writers used paganus as a substitute. Hellene and pagan were thus deployed for similar ideological reasons throughout the fourth century: to draw lines in the sand between Christians over the issue of assimilation and accommodation.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3184
Print ISSN
1067-6341
Pages
pp. 167-196
Launched on MUSE
2014-06-06
Open Access
No
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