Does Easter Come From Ishtar?

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.

ishtar

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. This claim is… (wait for it)… dumb.

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?

No. Her symbols were the lion and the eight-pointed star. This one’s a blatant lie.

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.

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.

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!).

 

There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Don’t fall for it.

Jesus is risen!  He is risen indeed!

The Less Famous Days of Holy Week

holyweek

Good Friday and Easter Sunday get all the press, but there are other important days of Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday

What is a “maundy” anyway? It comes from the Middle English and Old French word Mandé, which comes from the Latin Mandatum – which means Mandate.

Maundy Thursday refers to the mandate that Jesus gave the night before his crucifixion, when he shared his last supper with his disciples. After Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet in an act of love and service, he then told them:

A new commandment (Latin: mandatum) I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

On Maundy Thursday we remember the events of the last supper, the institution of the sacrament of communion, the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest friends, and the all night prayer vigil that Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sweat blood from the stress and anxiety he was experiencing as he looked forward to the physical and spiritual suffering that awaited him.

It was on this night that Jesus prayed three times: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39-44)

The fact that the Father did not remove this “cup” of suffering from Jesus reminds us that there was no other way for us to be saved, then for Jesus to go forward with taking our place in death and judgment so that we might be able to receive forgiveness and eternal life.

Holy Saturday

The day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is known as Holy Saturday. For the disciples of Jesus this would have been a day a great darkness and uncertainty, when the effects of Jesus’ crucifixion were not yet understood by all, and even though it wasn’t the case – it seemed like all hope was lost. Little did they realize that Sunday was coming…

Max Lucado wrote an excellent post on “The Silence of Saturday” a few years ago:

Jesus is silent on Saturday.  The women have anointed his body and placed it in Joseph’s tomb.  The cadaver of Christ is as mute as the stone which guards it.  He spoke much on Friday. He will liberate the slaves of death on Sunday.  But on Saturday, Jesus is silent.

So is God.  He made himself heard on Friday.  He tore the curtains of the temple, opened the graves of the dead, rocked the earth, blocked the sun of the sky, and sacrificed the Son of Heaven.  Earth heard much of God on Friday.

Nothing on Saturday.  Jesus is silent.  God is silent.  Saturday is silent.

Easter weekend discussions tend to skip Saturday.  Friday and Sunday get the press.  The crucifixion and resurrection command our thoughts.  But don’t ignore Saturday.  You have them, too.

Silent Saturdays.  The day between the struggle and the solution; the question and the answer; the offered prayer and the answer thereof.

Saturday’s silence torments us.  Is God angry?  Did I disappoint him? God knows Jesus is in the tomb, why doesn’t He do something?  Or, in your case God knows your career is in the tank, your finances are in the pit, your marriage is in a mess. Why doesn’t He act?  What are you supposed to do until He does?

You do what Jesus did.  Lie still.  Stay silent.  Trust God.  Jesus died with this conviction: “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Acts 2:27 NIV).

Jesus knew God would not leave him alone in the grave.  You need to know, God will not leave you alone with your struggles.  His silence is not his absence, inactivity is never apathy.  Saturdays have their purpose. They let us feel the full force of God’s strength. Had God raised Jesus fifteen minutes after the death of His son, would we have appreciated the act? Were He to solve your problems the second they appear, would you appreciate His strength?

For His reasons, God inserts a Saturday between our Fridays and Sundays.  If today is one for you, be patient.  As one who endured the silent Saturday wrote:  “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7 NKJV).

The Etymology of God

I enjoy linguistics; I consider it a hobby. I speak only 2 languages fluently, and several others to varying degrees. Whereas some people find language learning tedious, I find it invigorating.

One of the areas of linguistics I enjoy most is etymology: the study of the origin of words.

Etymology gives you a window into the thinking of a culture or a people group.

For example: I have been teaching a church history class at White Fields, and last week we were talking about how Constantine, before his conversion to Christianity, had monotheistic leanings and had declared “the venerable day of the Sun” (Sunday) to be a free day, on which no one was to work. Until that time, Sunday had been a work day, and Christians gathered for worship and the taking of the sacrament (communion) before work and then again after work, in the evening. More on that here.

Someone in the class said: Oh, so that’s why it’s called SUNday?  Yes, and in English that’s why it’s called Monday (Moon) and Saturday (Saturn).

In fact, it is interesting to consider the etymology of the names of the week in other languages. In Russian, Sunday is called: Воскресенье, which is a close derivative of the word воскрешение, which means “Resurrection”.

In Hungarian, it’s not quite as cool: Sunday is “Vasárnap” – which no doubt derives from “vásár-nap”: “Market Day”… Definitely not as cool (or as Christian) as “Resurrection”. While Romans were all about honoring the Sun, Hungarians were all about shopping…

But if etymology gives insight into the way a culture thinks, then what can we learn from the etymology of “God”?

The English word God, does not derive from the word “good”, as one might think, but comes from the Germanic Gott, which derives from the Gothic Gheu, which is thought to derive from the Sanskrit: Hu – meaning: “the one who is invoked” or “the one who is sacrificed to.”  It refers to the supreme being.

The Latin Deus, along with the related Greek Theos comes from the Indo-Iranian Deva/Sanskrit Dyaus, which are related to the terms for “to give light”, “to implore”. It is from these roots that the Spanish Dios comes.

In Hungarian, the word for God is Isten.  I’ve been told that this modern form derives from:  Ős-tény – literally: “The ancient truth (or: ancient fact)”

One of the very interesting things to read about is how different missionaries tried to find a given culture’s word for God, sometimes with great success and sometimes without. For example, in Korea, Catholic missionaries believed that the Koreans had no good word for God – as in, the Supreme Being of the universe – so they used the Chinese word for God, a word which was foreign to the Koreans, and which caused the Koreans to think of Christianity as a foreign religion. It was only when Protestant Presbyterian missionaries came to Korea, that they got to know the Korean culture and language well enough to realize that they did in fact have a word (and therein a concept) for the God of the Bible: the creator and sustainer of all things, the righteous judge of all the Earth – 하나님 (Hananim).

It is as Paul the Apostle said: God has not left himself without witness in any culture, or amongst any group of people. (Acts 14:17)  Etymology gives us a window into this truth.