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 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.
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
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.