While walking through Wadi Digla with a group of friends we got to talking about pagans, and found that we were not in agreement, writes Jill Kamil
Wadi Digla is a dried-out river bed lying to the east of the Cairo suburb of Maadi. It was declared a nature reserve some years ago, and is frequented by nature lovers and those who want to take exercise far from the madding crowd. For my group of friends it is also an opportunity to walk together to discuss matters of mutual interest.
On a recent occasion we got to talking about paganism. As an Egyptologist I naturally associate the word "pagan" with polytheism, the worship of many gods before the introduction of the divine or "revealed" religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Characteristic of pagan traditions, I presented, is the presence of a living mythology that explained natural phenomena and religious practice.
However, a friend claimed that paganism referred to atheists and agnostics. A third asked, rhetorically, what of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and the Bahaai faith, surely they are not pagan, or are they? When I pursued the conversation with others that evening, I heard the remark that the Old Testament of the Bible (the Hebrew Scriptures) contained references to pagans as those communities surrounding the Hebrews, and they included Babylonians, Canaanites, and Philistines.
In fact, everyone I spoke to seemed to have a different definition of the word "pagan", and at some gatherings, as the argument became more and more heated, I realised that while opinions differed, most of my compatriots remained convinced that their meaning of the word was the correct one.
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