We all know that the best place to get information on history is from Facebook memes, right?
One popular meme which I saw floating around this year as we approached Easter was this one, which claims that Easter comes from the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, and that the practices of Easter are all pagan in origin.
There is so much about this that is blatantly incorrect. Let’s break it down:
Is Ishtar pronounced Easter?
Nope. Ishtar is pronounced… (wait for it)… ISH-TAR. Just like it’s spelled.
Was Ishtar the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex?
Yes. Kind of. Ishtar was an ancient Mesopotamian goddess of war, fertility, and sex. She is featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the “Ishtar Gate” was part of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Her worship involved animal sacrifices; objects made of her sacred stone, lapis lazuli; and temple prostitution.
Were Ishtar’s symbols the egg and the bunny?
Was Easter originally a pagan holiday which was changed after Constantine to represent Jesus?
No. The date of Jesus’ death and resurrection are clearly recorded in the gospels. Christians have known and celebrated Jesus’ resurrection since the earliest days. We are told in the New Testament that Christians immediately after Jesus’ ascension began gathering weekly on Sunday to remember and celebrate the resurrection, and we know from ancient Christian documents dating to the early 2nd Century (200 years before Constantine) that Christians celebrated what we call “Easter”, i.e. Jesus’ resurrection annually on the anniversary of the event.
For more on the date of Jesus’ death and resurrection, read: Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How it Adds Up.
Where does the word Easter come from?
The word Easter does not come from Ishtar. There are two main theories about where the word comes from.
Theory #1: Eostre
Some say it comes from the Germanic goddess Eostre. However, there are major problems with this theory, since there is no real evidence that anyone ever worshiped a goddess named Eostre— no shrines dedicated to Eostre, no altars of hers, and no ancient documents mentioning her.
Theory #2: Eostarum
More likely is that the word Easter derives from the Latin phrase in albis, related to alba (“dawn” or “daybreak”). In Old High German, in albis became eostarum, which eventually became Ostern in modern German and Easter in English. [reference]
Other languages don’t use the word “Easter” at all
Most European languages use a form of the Latin and Greek word Pascha, which means “Passover.” French: Pâcques. Italian: Pasqua. Russian: Пасха.
Where do Easter eggs and the Easter bunny come from?
During Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter), Christians in the Middle Ages abstained from eating eggs. Eastern Christians (Orthodox and Coptic) still abstain to this day from eating eggs during lent. The tradition of hard-boiling eggs and painting them a few days before Easter developed as a result of people looking forward to the end of the fast from eggs. They would prepare them a few days before Easter and then consume them on Easter Day when they ended the Lenten fast. At some point people made a game out of hiding these colored eggs and sending their children to search for them. [reference 1, 2]
As for the Easter bunny, we know that it is a tradition which the German immigrants to the United States brought with them in the 1700’s. They called it Osterhase, and it was said to “lay” the Easter eggs. It’s origin is not believed to be pagan, but rather… (wait for it)… “fun” (whatever that is!). [reference]
There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Don’t fall for it.
Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!