HEATHEN, a term originally applied to all persons or races who did not hold the Jewish or Christian belief, thus including Mahommedans. It is now more usually given to polytheistic races, thus excluding Mahommedans. The derivation of the word has been much debated. It is common to all Germanic languages ; cf . German Heide, Dutch heiden. It is usually ascribed to a Gothic hafyi, heath. In Ulfilas' Gothic version of the Bible, the earliest extant literary monument of the Germanic languages, the Syrophoenician woman (Mark vii. 26) is called hafyno, where the Vulgate has gentilis. " Heathen," i.e. the people of the heath or open country, would thus be a translation of the Latin paganus, pagan, i.e. the people of the pagus or village, applied to the dwellers in the country where the worship of the old gods still lingered, when the people of the towns were Christians (but see PAGAN for a more tenable explanation of that term). On the other hand it has been suggested (Prof. S. Bugge, Indo-German. Forschungen, v. 178, quoted in the New English Dictionary) that Ulfilas may have adopted the word from the Armenian heianos, i.e. Greek Wvrj, tribes, races, the word used for the " Gentiles " in the New Testament. Gentilis in Latin, properly meaning " tribesman," came to be used of foreigners and non-Roman peoples, and was adopted in ecclesiastical usage for the non-Christian nations and in the Old Testament for non- Jewish races.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)