April 20, 2011

Deconstructing Easter


**giveaway winner announced at the end of this post

Back in the day I did a post about the whole "Christmas is a pagan holiday" myth. Now it's time for another: Easter

A friend of mine on facebook posted something about how somewhere they've renamed Easter Eggs "Spring Spheres" or something. And several of us were laughing about it, but of course, you had to get a couple of people who started the whole "Well, 'Easter' is actually pagan. We celebrate Resurrection Day."

Now, before I go on, let me just say I have nothing against calling Easter Sunday, "Resurrection Day." After all, that's why we celebrate Easter, isn't it? What I object to is the idea that calling the day "Easter" somehow lessens the miracle of the resurrection.

Anyway, at one point in the conversation, a lady said that we shouldn't celebrate Easter or call it Easter because the word "Easter" comes from some pagan festival honoring some Spring goddess.

Through a series of questions, she finally said that, to the best of her memory, Easter comes from the worship of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar ("Ishtar" sounds like "Easter") who was the goddess of fertility, and had a festival in her honor on the weekend we celebrate Easter.

And, supposedly, the ancient Roman Catholic Church (RCC) codified "Easter" as the time Christians were supposed to celebrate the resurrection because "the world" already celebrated Ishtar/Easter at that time, so what we have now is a sort of mesh of the two holidays.

Now, listen, I know a lot of people have heard and hold onto that story because someone they trust to be studious and credible told it to them. And I'm not saying, "Oh, that person you trust lied to you!" Moreover, I don't have anything to replace that story with.

All I have are some questions and observations which, to me, negate that explanation of why we call the day we celebrate Jesus' resurrection "Easter," and consequently, why we should cease using the term "Easter" completely.

First of all, let's talk about when we celebrate Easter.

We celebrate Easter when we do because of where it falls in accordance with Passover, based on what Scripture says about the timeline of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (traditionally called Palm Sunday today), observing Passover, being betrayed, crucified and then resurrected the day after the Sabbath. (If you're interested in the details, the book of Matthew in the Bible outlines it the best, in my opinion, starting with Chapter 21.)

If the RCC did decide to adapt resurrection celebrations to an existing pagan celebration, it's an awful big coincidence that the pagan celebration just happened to line up with the historical record of Jesus's crucifixion, don't you think?

Next, let me just say that even if you accept that the RCC began with the Apostle Peter - (which, of course, being Protestant, I don't) but for the sake of this discussion, let's say we do - the formal RCC wasn't organized until many years later, a couple of centuries, at least organized and influential enough to declare something for believers worldwide.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that it took until the RCC declared - many years after Jesus resurrected - that the resurrection should be celebrated for Christians to decide they should celebrate the resurrection, considering that was and is the focal point of Christianity.

What seems to me to be more likely is the celebration pre-dated Catholicism and they codified it, rather than the other way around. Otherwise, I think the Reformationists would have abandoned it, and we know they didn't. (They celebrated Christmas, too, btw.)

Now, about Ishtar. Here's where we need a little history lesson. The Babylonian Empire fell in 539 BC. They were overtaken by the Medo-Persians, which later became the Persian Empire. The Persian Empire gave way to the Greek Empire, which then later was overtaken by the Roman Empire, which was the ruling power of Jesus's time. That covers almost 600 years and 4 dynasties.

It was the practice during that time that a conquering empire would adopt the gods of a conquered culture as their own - but they would change the names. So, Ishtar became Aphrodite (Greek goddess of fertility), who became Bona Dea (Roman goddess of fertility). Therefore, by the time Jesus came - and, much later, the RCC - no one who worshiped Ishtar would still be alive. And those who did worship the goddess of fertility worshiped Bona Dea, or maybe Aphrodite, but certainly not Ishtar.

Therefore, it's unlikely that anyone in the first or second century AD celebrated a festival named Easter, at least in honor of Ishtar, just based on the name.

Moreover, I can't find anything about Ishtar mythology that describes celebrations or festivals, or even anything connecting Ishtar to Spring in general. She was really a goddess of sex who related more to myths about the underworld - death - rather than Spring and birth.

If the celebration of spring and fertility was practiced around Jesus's time, it's probably because it translated into Greek and Roman equivalent goddesses, but their names don't sound anything like Easter.

So in order for us to believe the story that Easter comes from some Catholic reaction to a festival about Ishtar, we have to accept that - A) Ishtar worship remained through 3 conquered kingdoms and multiple goddess changes, B) the festival celebrating her just happened to be on the same day or weekend as the resurrection of Jesus, and C) enough Christians living in the RCC empire participated in Ishtar worship to force the RCC to try to adapt to it, despite the fact that history records Christians removing themselves so far from pagan religion that many of them stopped eating meat just because other people sacrificed meat to idols.

That's too many coincidences for me.

Another thing: I would definitely agree that, if people celebrated Easter as a holiday worshiping a pagan god, then as Christians we should not celebrate it. But here's my question - have you ever actually met anyone who celebrated a pagan holiday called Easter?

I'm not asking if you believe that people who celebrate Easter are unknowingly celebrating a pagan goddess. I mean, have you ever met someone who deliberately, intentionally celebrated Easter as the worship of a pagan goddess?

My guess would be, no. Heck, I've never even known someone who practiced Halloween as a legitimate pagan holiday, let alone Easter. Worst case scenario, non-Christian people use Easter as an excuse to take their kids to the mall for a picture with a bunny suit and buy Peeps.

When I was in high school, we went on a mission trip to a large European city that is famous for being non-religious (at least as far as Christianity is concerned, there are large enclaves of Islam there, including fully-functioning Shari'a courts complete with protecting honor killing, but that's another story). We were going over Spring Break, shortly before Easter. And even in this city where they have converted the old churches and cathedrals to thrift shops, there were still Easter sales, specials and events, because the tradition still hung around. (Thank goodness for tradition!)

Because of this, we had an easy avenue to begin conversations. "Oh, you celebrate Easter? So do we! Do you know why we celebrate Easter?"

If we abandon terms, words and yes - traditions - that the world still recognizes as Christian, I believe we have far more to lose than gain, specifically in our opportunities to let the world know about God.

So, what's my point in writing all of this? Am I going to tell you where the term "Easter" originally came from? Nope. I really have no idea. What's more, I don't care.

People are celebrating Jesus, and whether they call it Easter, Resurrection Day or just another Sunday, all that matters in the end, is Jesus. And I think that's something we can all agree on.

Oops! I forgot to post the winner of the Crafty Hippo Designs giveaway!

Lucky #10 is:
Yay Tracy! Be sure and leave me a comment with your email address so I can put you in touch with our sponsor!!

7 comments:

  1. As always, very informative. :)

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  2. NO WAY!!! Thanks girlie! twages2@sc.rr.com the day just got a lot better!

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  3. thank you JC - I showed my kids the above pictures of the Easter Bunny and no longer have to deal with the uncomfortable questions of them asking if the Easter Bunny is coming. They no longer want him to. :)

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  4. I go back and forth on the whole Easter thing because of this. And maybe - once upon a time - it was related to some pagan tradition. Maybe. The truth is we'll never really know because, like you said, who celebrates it for purely pagan reasons? I think I heard (probably in college) that in Celtic traditions, a rabbit is a symbol of fertility...which goes with the whole Easter Bunny and eggs thing. Honestly, I can't remember where I got that information or where the person who told me got it from. So who really knows, right?! I still have issues with how commercialized it is, but at least it's an easy (ish) way to segue into the REAL reason we celebrate Easter (or Christmas, for that matter).

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  5. The Venerable Bede wrote about a Anglo-Saxon goddess in his book De temporum ratione: Modern English translation:
    Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance."[5]
    Whose celebrations were also held in spring.Probably a similar lady to the one mentioned above. She is celebrated in her own right by neo-pagans here in England at the present time.

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  6. I think I just piddled myself from laughing at some of those pics ;)

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  7. Hey great pictures.
    You did most of the research, which brought you right to the truth then you totally faded and (in effect) said, "I am really a Pharisee, I'll just stick with my pagan traditions,it's easier and I don't care what God thinks anyway.
    I could not believe it- I was shocked! Why?

    If you ever read and understood the old testament, one of the basic messages is that God must have the clean separated from the unclean. One drop of water from the toilet in your ice tea and you are not gonna drink it.

    God hates filthy pagan stuff mixed with the pure sacrificial death of His only Son. Sorry to be so blunt, I just prayed that He will open your heart and mind to seek truth on this.
    "Come out of her (pagan Christianity) my people."

    My best to you,
    Steve Harris (steen)
    stevrh@gmail.com

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