NO! Easter is NOT Named After Ishtar

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Every year as Lent draws closer to its end and Easter approaches, one particularly pernicious and stubborn digital weed in the form of an internet meme seems to spring up and get shared on social media. This particular digital weed is the “This Is Ishtar pronounced Easter” meme. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have avoided it over the past few years, here it is for reference in all its historically inaccurate and wild-eyed conspiracy theorizing ignominy:

This is Ishtar

This wildly inaccurate image and text combo is lofted up as a “gotcha” argument by those who would try to debunk the true meaning and origins of the Easter Resurrection by claiming it originates in, predictably, sex and paganism.

It is the same tired tactic often employed to discredit Christianity – tie it to an ancient and obscure pagan tradition and remove its credibility as something worthy of being celebrated. From Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve) being a Druidic/Wiccan Day of the Dead to Christmas being a Roman Solstice Festival celebrating the birth of the “son”, you’ll see these terribly inaccurate slanders thrown about social media as fact and accepted by the misinformed and impressionable.

But this meme to me is particularly egregious in its sheer “wrongness”. It implies that Easter is actually named after a Babylonian fertility goddess named Ishtar; which they claim is pronounced the same as the modern English Easter… and something about eggs and Constantine changing the word…

Wow. What a load of σκύβαλα.

Ok, let’s break this image and its claims down…

“This is Ishtar”

No argument here. The image is of a relief known as the Burney Relief and is widely considered to be an Ancient Babylonian representation of Ishtar. This relief is currently housed in the British Museum in London, but originates from southern Iraq and is nearly 4,000 years old.

“pronounced Easter”

Nope. That’s just simply untrue. In modern English, the word is pronounced exactly how it looks. –Ishtar > /ˈɪʃtɑːr/. (You can hear it pronounced on The Oxford Dictionary’s website entry for the name here.) Claiming that words that phonetically sound somewhat alike mean the same thing or have the same origin is the obvious sign of a person with no linguistics training or understanding of etymology. That’s like saying “here” and “hear” or “red” and “read” are the same word or developed from the same root.

“Easter is originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex.”

Ishtar was a sort of catch-all goddess of love and war and sex, as well as protection, fate, childbirth, marriage, and storms—there’s some fertility in there, like her Greek counterpart Aphrodite. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, her cult practiced sacred prostitution, where women waited at a temple and had sex with a stranger in exchange for a divine blessing.

“Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny)”

Ishtar symbols were the lion, the gate, and the eight-pointed star. Not the egg or the bunny. There are no depictions of her with eggs or bunnies in the archaeological record. The creator of this meme should have sited some sources if he wanted to make this claim.

Were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?)”

Easter is a celebration Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection through which we get new life and are reborn. Eggs, rabbits and springtime are symbols of new life and birth. Rabbits, being very fertile, were often used in early Christian art as a sign of fertility and new life. Eggs were used to symbolize creation and rebirth. But this is not exclusive to Christianity. Most cultures viewed eggs, obviously, as a sign of birth fertility… because that is EXACTLY what they are! Of course Christians would use obvious symbols to make obvious parallels.

According to Scientific America

The Phoenix (that dies and is reborn) was adopted as a Christian symbol in the first century AD. It appears on funeral stones in early Christian art, churches, religious paintings, and stonework. The egg from which it (The Phoenix) rose has become our Easter egg. As with many symbols, the Easter egg has continued to shift. When the Lenten fast was adopted in the third and fourth centuries, observant Christians abstained from dairy products, including milk, cheese, butter, and eggs. In England, on the Saturday before Lent, it was common practice for children to go from door to door to beg for eggs—a last treat before the fast began.

In the Christian East, painting Easter eggs is an especially beloved tradition. Orthodox and Eastern Catholics have the tradition of dying eggs red to represent the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on the cross. The eggs are blessed by the priest at the end of the Paschal vigil and distributed to the people. The shell of the egg represents the sealed Tomb of Christ, and cracking the shell represents Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Just because one culture adopts a thing as a symbol, it does not mean another culture cannot independently adopt the same things as a symbol of something else. To argue otherwise is the fallacy of false cause. For example, in the Chinese zodiac, the monkey is a sign of wisdom, where in the west, the monkey is a sign of foolishness as in “monkeying around”.

“After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus.”

Constantine the Great seems to have been adopted as the Patron Saint of the misinformed conspiracy theorist. One fundamental point that this image glosses over is that Constantine would never have used or heard the the word Easter. The word Easter, let alone the English language didn’t even exist yet in his time. Constantine would have spoken Latin and Greek. The word Constantine would have used to refer to the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ would have been Πάσχα, or “Pascha”.

In the Hebrew, Passover is Pesach. The Greek form is simply a transliteration and takes the form Pascha. Virtually ALL languages refer to Easter as either a transliterated form of pascha or otherwise use resurrection in the name. English and German stand apart in their use of Easter (Ostern) to refer to the celebration of the Resurrection.

Names derived from the Hebrew Pesach (Passover):

  • Bulgarian – Paskha
  • Danish – Paaske
  • Dutch – Pasen
  • Finnish – Pääsiäinen
  • French – Pâques
  • Indonesian – Paskah
  • Italian – Pasqua
  • Lower Rhine German – Paisken
  • Norwegian – Påske
  • Portuguese – Páscoa
  • Romanian – Pasti
  • Russian – Paskha
  • Scottish Gaelic – Càisg
  • Spanish – Pascua
  • Swedish – Påsk
  • Welsh – Pasg

Via EWTN

According to St. Bede (d. 735), the great historian of the Middle Ages, the title English word “Easter” seems to originate in English around the eighth century A.D. The word Easter is derived from the word <Eoster>, the name of the Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and Spring, and the annual sacrifices associated with her. The Christian celebration of the Resurrection occurred during a month named for this goddess, which today is known as April.

Saint Bede wrote:

“Eosturmanath 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.”

Another possibility which arises from more recent research suggests the early Church referred to Easter week as <hebdomada alba> (“white week”), from the white garments worn by the newly baptized. Some mistranslated the word to mean “the shining light of day” or “the shining dawn,” and therefore used the Teutonic root <eostarun>, the Old German plural for “dawn” (where we get the modern English word ‘East’ from where the ‘Sun Rises'”, as the basis for the German <Ostern> and for the English equivalent “Easter”. In early English translations of the Bible made by Tyndale and Coverdale, the word “Easter” was substituted for the word “Passover,” in some verses.

Even though the etymological root of “Easter” may be linked to the name of a pagan goddess or pagan ceremonies, the feast which the word describes is Christian without question. Exactly why the English language did not utilize to the Hebrew-Greek-Latin root is a mystery.

“But at its roots, Easter is all about celebrating fertility and sex”

This final sentence likely betrays the memes author’s intentions in spreading these falsehoods. It shows the obsessive modern tendency to make EVERYTHING about sex. It would seem that this was an attempt to discredit Christianity and its outdated morality about sex.

But NO. Easter is not about sex. It is about the the fulfillment of God’s salvific plan through the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus of Nazareth on Good Friday and His triumph over death on Easter Sunday. To say that the Christian celebration of Easter is anything else, regardless of some spurious etymological claims, is simply false.

Comments

31 COMMENTS

    • I do beleive that this article was written to debunk the nonsense (hyperlink)you left here. I guess it is up to you to decide what you want to beleive. Man, what do you do when everybody has facts?

      • This is the problem with history – it’s open to interpretation. Depending on what your world view is, evidence can (and will) be interpreted to mean one thing or another. If you have hard data – verifyable evidence – that’s one thing. But when it comes to ancient information like this, it simply isn’t verifiable one way or the other. So, yeah, everyone has “facts” to support their view.
        Keep in mind, true analysis uses evidence to either support or disprove a hypothesis. We don’t deal with “proof.” The kind of hard data that can be accepted as “fact” is a fairly recent (last couple hundred years) idea, and only applies to the concrete world, not the spiritual.
        Matters of faith are, by definition, not verifiable. That doesn’t make them invalid; faith is up to each person to accept or deny.

  1. So “Easter” derives from a pagan Teutonic goddess instead of a pagan Mesopotamian goddess … we’re all agreed its a pagan holiday.

    • Tony, I agree: as the author stated, most modern holidays (e.g. Easter, Christmas, Halloween, other) are rooted in non-Biblical foundation. Christians were only instructed to remember Jesus huge act of love and his resurrection, which do not occur every year on Good Friday and Easter Sunday (lunar calendar shifts relative to our 12-month calendar each year). The keys to Christian belief are to glorify God’s name, follow Jesus example to love / worship God and to love each other. They have nothing to do with these holiday celebrations. Back in the first century, many of the early Christian letters encouraged people to not focus on the details, but on to focus on these key beliefs and acts of Spirit.

  2. This article did not help your case. You went from one pagan goddess to another. I have read about many Catholic traditions that seem borrowed or christianized. But that’s okay because use it now celebrate Christ.

  3. Does the Bible cite Easter? God has always referred to this period as Passover and the new Christians in the new testament did not give it a new name nor did they find new symbols beside what Jesus suggested to do in remembrance of Him. So Easter, no matter its origin, will never be what I celebrate because that is not what my God told me to celebrate. We have become the new Pharisees in getting caught up in culture instead of seeking God to do as He asks.

  4. Hi the article very clearly sets out that eostre’s connection to the festival is as nothing more than a translated term for a time period.

    If you can’t see the difference between that and the Ishtar claim, I would like you to please stop being atheists publicly, u aren’t helping.

  5. You I am amazed by all the comments, maybe I am simple-minded but why do we need to under everything
    just believe your Christian faith, Our Blessed Mother in one of her messages ‘Even I did not understand every-
    thing – So please people just keep the commentments that God has given for us to obey and keep praying
    each other and the world. -Amen

  6. I believe he died, i believe he was buried, i believe he rose from the dead, I believe he lives forever. All that other stuff about easter, well, if it’s not in the scriptures, it has absolutely nothing to do with My Lord, and all that He has done, and continues to do. As far as am concerned, it’s good Friday, followed by resurrection Sunday. Thank you Jesus.

  7. I choose to serve God through Jesus His son, ishter or what ever, i celebrate the death of christ and his raise from the dead for my salvation.

  8. All the months of the year, all the days of the week and all the planets of the Solar System are named after pagan gods and goddesses. They are mere mythological figures. If Easter (Resurrection Day) or Christmas bother you so much, you have to fly away to an unseen and unheard of galaxy.

  9. Aside from Easter, which is a pagan holiday & only the ignorant deny that fact, can you explain how “Good Friday” to “Resurrection Sunday” is 3 days and 3 nights?

    Jesus said, when asked by the Pharisees, the only sign He would give would be the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:40), and Jesus acknowledged that their were 12 hours of light in a day (John 11:9). This means there would be 12 hours of night in a day as well, making a full 24 hour cycle (you can trace the full day back to Genesis 1 – sunset to sunset). Also, the word used for “day” in the verse literally means the 12 hours from sunrise to sunset. So, 3 days & 3 nights would constitute a full 72 hours. Friday evening to Sunday morning is 36 hours at best.

    Furthermore, the Bible proves the impossibility of a “Good Friday” to “Resurrection Sunday” timeframe. Remember that when Jesus was crucified, Joseph rushed to get his body down & buried because it was the preparation day, which is the day before the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread (Luke 23:50-55, Mark 15:42). Mark 16:1 states that the women bought spices when the Sabbath was over, and Luke 23:56 states that the women prepared the spices and perfumes & they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. How is it possible to have 2 FULL Sabbath days (one High, one weekly) and a FULL day in between the Sabbaths where the spices were bought & prepared between Friday evening & Sunday morning? That is literally impossible.

    It’s important to note that there were 2 separate visits by women to the grave (Mary in John 20:1 when it was dark – this means the new day had begun & the weekly Sabbath was over – and the grave was EMPTY – which means Jesus had risen on the weekly Sabbath before the new day had begun; and the other women in Matthew 28:1,5-8, Mark 16:2-8, Luke 24:1-8). The evidence for two visits is in the fact that on the first visit Mary was not allowed to touch Jesus, and on the second visit the women were permitted to. Many attempting to disprove Christianity use the “visit to the grave stories” as being contradictory, not realizing that there were two separate visits.

    On the topic of Easter, even if we cannot agree that it is a pagan holiday, we can (or should) agree on the fact that Easter is not a Biblical holy day given by God. Easter is a holiday that was “Christianized” which means that it was not originally Biblical. The Bible states that God does not change (Malachi 3:6), that Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30), and that Jesus does not change (Hebrews 13:8). God declares that it is an abomination to learn the ways of the nation and worship Him in that way (Deuteronomy 12:29-32). If God does not change, then an abomination to God will always be an abomination to Him. According to the Bible, Easter is an abomination.

    The Bible says in 1 John 2:6 that those who say they remain in Jesus should walk as He walked. Jesus did not celebrate Easter (and yes, it was around thousands of years before He was on the earth), Jesus celebrated the Feasts of the LORD in Leviticus 23. Jesus walked an entirely different life than Catholicism or Protestantism teaches (or all of modern day Christianity). God’s people, and those that profess Jesus as the Messiah, should learn the ways that Jesus lived and walked, and do the same.

    • Yeah, I can’t believe anybody is even defending Easter. There are stupid memes all over the internet. Is the fact that this meme is stupid supposed to prove that Easter has anything to do with Jesus? And if not, what is the point of the original article?

      Clearly, Easter bunnies and egghunts and chocolate and candy… have nothing to do with Jesus. How could anyone possibly argue that it does? If you want to celebrate Jesus resurrection, fine, do it. But if you join the world in celebrating this worldly holiday, you’re fooling yourself to say that it is for Jesus.

  10. I don’t trust the Catholic Church! It’s History of lies, deceit, power lust, and murder is enough for me to disregard this article.

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