Fort Fairfield Journal Home page
The Origin of the Easter Tradition
By: David Deschesne
Originally Published Fort Fairfield Journal, April 12, 2006, p. 9
Updated and Expanded Fort Fairfield Journal, April 16, 2014, p. 2
Easter is an English cognate for Ishtar- the Babylonian goddess of fertility and war. The Phoenician counterpart was known as Ashtarte.1
“Ishtar, the most important goddess in the Sumerian-Akkadian pantheon, was venerated in an orgiastic cult. Since she was the mistress for sexual life, ritual temple prostitution was practiced in her honor. The sacred courtesans in the temple were regarded as embodiments of the mother goddesses Anat and Astarte. Young men as well as young women served in these erotic rites. The arrangement met the sexual needs of the populace and also provided the temples with a source of income, for those who availed themselves of the ‘priestesses’ made offerings to the temple.”2
According to the late Dr. Gene Scott, Ishtar was represented by Semiramis, the wife of the ancient Babylonian king Nimrod. According to ancient Babylonian legend, it is claimed that Ishtar caused the fish-goddess Atargatis to cause a great egg to fall in the Euphrates river where fish pushed it to shore and Semiramis was miraculously born. The Easter egg - Ishtar egg - does not represent the stone rolled away from the tomb like the medieval church said it did.
(In remembrance of the fish;) ...fish-eating on Friday, required by common law in Catholic lands, was required by state law in the Protestant England of Edward VI (1526) to support the fishing industry and so train men to the sea for the navy.3
Tamuz was a Babylonian god, whose name was interpreted “faithful son” and died and rose annually with dying and reviving vegetation.4 Ancient folklore shows Tamuz to be the son of Semiramis. According to Dr. Scott, “When Tamuz grew up he suddenly died as a young adult. Semiramis, grief-stricken, prayed over her dead son's body for 40 days until he was ultimately resurrected back to life.”
Thus Ishtar descends to the kingdom of Ilat the queen of the dead to find the means of restoring her favourite Tamuz to life.5
The English word “Easter,” however, corresponding to the German Oster, reveals Christianity’s indebtedness to the Teutonic tribes of Central Europe. Christianity, when it reached the Teutons, incorporated in its celebration of the great Christian feast day many of the heathen rites and customs which accompanied their observance of the spring festival. That the festival of the resurrection occurred in the spring, that it celebrated the triumph of life over death, made it easy for the church to identify with this occasion the most joyous festival of the Teutons, held in honor of the death of winter, the birth of a new year and the return of the sun.6
The conception of the egg as a symbol of fertility and of renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who had also the custom of coloring and eating eggs during their spring festival. Like the Easter egg, the Easter hare, now an accepted part of the traditional Easter story, came to Christianity from antiquity. The hare is associated with the moon in the legends of ancient Egypt and other peoples. It belongs to the night, since it comes out only then to feed. It is born with its eyes open and, like the moon is “the open-eyed watcher of the skies.” The hare came to be associated with the idea of periodicity, both lunar and human and with the beginning of new life in both the young man and the young woman, and so a symbol of fertility and the renewal of life. As such, the hare became linked with the Easter or paschal, eggs. In the United States, where the hare is unfamiliar, it is the Easter rabbit which is fabled to lay the eggs in the nests prepared for it.
At first in the U.S. Easter was not observed, due to the Puritanical element. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century, particularly during the Civil War, that the Protestant Churches, other than the Lutheran and Episcopalian, began to mark this day by special services. The desire of the churches to bring consolation to those bereaved by the war made it natural for them to choose Easter Sunday.7
So we have a rabbit and the egg as symbols of fertility, celebrating the ancient fertility festival centered around Ishtar, the 40 days of Lent (of which there is no such event listed in the King James Bible) symbolic of Semiramis praying over Tamuz’s dead body for 40 days, and fish on Friday used as a remembrance of Atargatis’ fish in the Euphrates which pushed the great egg to shore.
In addition to fertility, eggs are also symbolic of mourning and are featured during the Jewish Passover which seems to have picked up this practice and symbolism from other religions’ traditions from antiquity since there is nothing in the Jewish holy scripts that allow for it. The Jewish Passover Sedar Plate is a special plate containing symbolic foods eaten or displayed at the Passover Seder which is conducted on the evenings of the 14th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar throughout the world.
“The ancient tradition of Jewish Passover eggs are a symbol of mourning. This might have a bearing on the eggs in the Mycenaean and Lucanian graves: many eggs mean much mourning, and of course a huge ostrich egg would mean great mourning. Perhaps this symbol also explains the use of egg-and-dart borders as ornaments on classical funerary structures and temples. From the Jewish Passover the egg passed into the rituals of Christian Easter, where, however, it lost its meaning. A Passover Eve custom is to hide a piece of mazzoth (unleavened bread), which is then hunted for by the youngest member of the family; in the Christian church this hide-and-seek tradition was shifted to Easter eggs. The theme of resurrection is closely connected with the symbol of mourning. The ostrich egg that hangs in Coptic Orthodox churches in front of the iconostasis (the wall covered with icons of the saints) is probably meant to be a symbol of resurrection. Here, too, the Christian tradition obviously is linked to far older traditions.”8 “The egg, being ‘round and having no mouth’ (opening), is regarded as a symbol of mourning which ‘is like a wheel which continually revolves in the world, and one must not open one's mouth in complaint’ (BB 16b; YD 378:9 of Gen R. 63:14). It is therefore given to mourners at the meal given to them on the return from the burial (se'udat havra'ah) and is eaten at the meal before undertaking the fast of the Ninth of *Av. On the seder night of Passover there has developed the custom of eating an egg dipped in salt water before beginning the festive meal. There is no authority for this custom in the sources; various explanations have been put forward, and Moses Isserles connects it with its mourning aspect.”9
The Easter in Acts 12:4
In the Prophetic Observer, Dr. Larry Spargimino elaborates on Acts 12:4’s use of Easter;
“But what about Acts 12:4? Isn't 'Easter' a mistranslation? It may be a surprise, but the King James translators knew exactly what they were doing by rendering the word pascha as 'Easter.'In fact, they were avoiding a common mistake made by all of the modern translations which consistently render pascha as "Passover" in that context. Leviticus 23:5 states:
"In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord's Passover."
The next verse tells us what is to happen in the following period of time:
"And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the Lord."
From these two verses we learn:
1.) that the Passover was to be celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan - the first month; and
2.) the Feast of Unleavened bread starts on the following day, on the 15th.
In order to understand the significance of this and how it relates to the word “Easter” in Acts 12:4 we must remember when all of this was happening. Acts 12:3 tells us:
"And because he [Herod] saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread)"
According to this parenthetical statement, it was already the time of unleavened bread which, as the above scripture from Leviticus indicates, started with the 15th day of the first month. Hence, the word pascha in the Greek text could not be a reference to Passover. Passover was already past! Significantly, the Greek word pascha appears twenty-nine times in the Holy Bible. In twenty-eight of the occurrences, the KJV translators gave it the usual meaning of "Passover." The fact that they made an exception in Acts 12:4 suggests that the word in that verse was deliberate and calculated.
Many who read “Easter” in Acts 12:4 will react and say, “But Easter is a pagan holiday! Didn't the King James translators know that?” They sure did! They were not using the word “Easter” to refer to the resurrection of Christ, as is true in today's parlance. They were giving the word its ancient meaning. They knew that the ancient pagan festival of Ishtar was always held in the month of Nisan, which is roughly equivalent to our April.
In his excellent book, Which Version of the Bible?Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones further explains by stating that, ‘...the Jewish Passover was held in mid-Nisan and the pagan festival Easter was held later that same month.’
Since pascha in Acts 12:4 cannot refer to Passover,‘the context...must be referring to another holy day (holiday) that is at hand, but after Passover. This suggests that Herod was a follower of that worldwide cult and thus had not slain Peter during the days of unleavened bread because he wanted to wait for Easter...’
The King James translators realized that to render pascha as 'Passover' in this instance was both impossible and erroneous (again, Passover had already passed because Acts 12:3 states they were now into the days of unleavened bread - which occurs after Passover). They correctly discerned that the word would include any religious holy day occurring in the month of Nisan. The choice of 'Easter' was methodical, exact, and chosen because it is a cognate of the word Ishtar.”10
As Christians, we don't need the pagan goddess, Ishtar to remember the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Instead, we remember Him every time we go to the Table of the Lord and worthily partake in the bread and wine by looking through those elements and understanding that Christ was crucified and given as payment for all of our sins and bore all of our diseases and illnesses, as well.
1. Encyclopedia Britannica, ©1958, Vol. 2, p. 96.
2. The Secret of Crete, Hans Georg Wunderlich, ©1974 Macmillan Publishing Co., p.275
3. The Reformation, ©1957 Will Durant, p. 759
4. Encyclopedia Britannica, ©1958 Vol. 21, p. 775
5. ibid, Vol. 2, p. 96.
6. ibid, Vol. 7, p. 859-860
8. The Secret of Crete, Hans Georg Wunderlich, ©1974 Macmillan Publishing Co., pp. 219-221
10. Dr. Larry Spargimino, Prophetic Observer, April 2001, p. 3
©2014 David R. Deschesne, Fort Fairfield Journal
Reprint permission granted if printed in whole, unedited, with attribution