Alan Brown

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The character of Christian-pagan debate

Intellectual debate between 'Christians' and 'pagans' To juxtapose 'paganism' and 'Christianity' in late antiquity is not to compare like with like. 'Christianity' designates a specific religious tradition, anchored materially and semantically in the recognition of the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth as Christ and Lord.1 'Paganism', on the other hand, demarcates indiscriminately the whole stretch of Greco-Roman religious belief, myth, rite and ritual,2 whose phenomena originate variously in Greece, Rome, Asia Minor, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia.3

Such lack of specificity is due to the term 'pagan' itself. The very demarcation of Greco-Roman religion generally by means of the term paganus - a word that previously designated 'that which is inferior' - was an innovation of fourth-and fifth-century Latin Christian Orthodoxy. It constituted part of Christianity's successful attempt to achieve lexicographical self-differentiation from the religious world of the pre-Christian Roman empire that had surrounded it from its earliest days.4

Consequently, when we speak of'Christian-pagan intellectual debate', we are not concerned with a debate between the articulate representatives of two confessional groupings. Rather, 'intellectual debate between pagans and Christians' designates all the intellectual arguments on religious matters that late antique Christians had with anyone and everyone who was neither Christian nor Jewish.

1 Michael J. Wilkins, 'Christian'; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus - GodandMan, 53-88.

2 Cf.R. MacMullen, Paganism; A. H. Armstrong, ed., Classical Mediterranean spirituality.

3 Cf.e.g. the lists of gods in Lucian, Jup. trag. 8f., 12; Athenagoras, Leg. 14; Eusebius, De laud.

Const. 13.4f.; Minucius Felix, Octavius 6.1.

4 See Peter Brown, 'Pagan'.

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