This blog grows out of my conviction that every aspect of our lives is sacred and is to be nurtured and celebrated as a good gift of God. Most of the posts will be the sorts of things you would expect from a historian and worldview teacher, but some are likely to be a bit surprising. Since God created all things good, including all aspects of human life, everything is interesting and important from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Everything under the Sun and under Heaven is thus fair game here. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter and Paganism

It’s that time of year again. A new set of claims that Easter is a pagan holiday is making the rounds. From some of the Richard Dawkins’ Fan Club, we get Facebook posts claiming Easter is actually the festival of Ishtar, the ancient Mesopotamian fertility goddess, whose name was supposedly pronounced “Easter.” According to them, Constantine took a pagan holiday and inserted it into the church calendar.

This is load of complete nonsense.

Let’s start off with looking at a dictionary, or even Wikipedia, for the origins of the word “Easter.” The source is clear: it comes from Eostre, an Indo-European goddess who was associated in Germanic territories with spring, and whose name was thus used to designate both the season of spring and spring festivals. In other words, the name has nothing to do with Ishtar, and the geniuses who put out that idea simply demonstrate their inability to do even the most rudimentary fact checking.

 Ah, but if the holiday is named after a pagan goddess, doesn’t that make it pagan? No. First, since the name was used for spring and spring festivals, it’s not so outlandish that the important Christian feast that occurs in spring might pick up the name. More to the point, though, variants on the name Eostre are used for the holiday only in Germanic countries. In Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Russian, etc., the word for the holiday is a variant on Pascha, the name for Passover (Pesach in Hebrew). And Greek and Latin Christians were celebrating the holiday long before Christianity made it into Germanic areas. So no, it isn’t a pagan holiday whatever the etymology of the English name.

All of this is to say that the holiday is, or should be, Christian. The holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, his victory of sin and the grave, and the hope of our resurrection as well. We need to quit getting hung up over specious comparisons to pagan names and holidays and look at the claims of Christianity and the content of the church’s celebration.

Unless, of course, your Easter celebration is about bunnies, eggs, and chocolate. If so, if you don’t focus your attention on the fact of the resurrection, it might as well be a pagan holiday for you. It certainly ceases to be Christian at that point.


An added note: a reader pointed out this article to me that questions even the existence of the goddess Eostre. His arguments are worth considering, though I suspect Eostre was an actual goddess connected to the Titaness Eos, the goddess of the dawn in Greek mythology. Hence the reference to Indo-European mythology in my article.