Ishtar: More than a Shitty Movie
It’s also the source of a stupid fucking meme photo. I have seen this idiotic new atheist meme approximately 172,314 times today. Let me make this clear, so clear that even you people that think Seth MacFarlane is deep can understand; NO, the Easter celebration is not borrowed from some celebration devoted to Ishtar and no, Ishtar does not give Easter its name in the way you think.
Of course, I am being very liberal in my use of “think” here because very little actual thinking goes into this sort of propaganda. And it’s obviously American because only an American would be stupid enough to think that the holiday is universally known by its English name, even though English was centuries in the future when the holiday was first celebrated.
As I am a very logical sort, I will delineate the problems with this Just So Story for atheists point by point. You can verify the holiday names by simply going to the Google Translator and typing in “Easter” in the English section and then serial translating it into various languages.
- Easter is the *English* name of the holiday, not the universal one. Romans knew nothing of Easter (no, not even the evil Constantine). In Latin the name of the holiday derived from the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for the Passover; Pesach, which became Pascha in Greco-Roman Europe. This is seen throughout the Romance languages: Pascua in Spanish, Pasqua in Italian, Páscoa in Portuguese, Pâques in French and Paşti in Romanian. It is no different in the other western and central European languages: it’s Pasg in British, Pask in Breton, Cáisc in the Gaelics (no P in Gaelic), Påske in the Scandinavian languages, Pasen in Dutch, Pashka in Albanian and Russian, Páskar in Icelandic etc.. These names are not remotely related to the name Ishtar.
- Alternatively the holiday is known as The Great Day/Night in many of the slavic languages, save only Serbo-Croatian where it’s Resurrection Day (Uskrs in the Croat and Vaskrs in the Serbian). Among the Great Night variants we have Wielkanoc in Polish, Velikonoce in Czech, and Veľkánoc in Slovakian. Among the Great Day variants we have Velykden in the Ukrainian, Velikden in the Bulgarian and Vyalikdzyen in the Belarusian. None of these are remotely related to the name Ishtar.
- English, as a Germanic language, adopted the Germanic habit of naming the holiday for an ancient Germanic goddess Ostara, Oestre, Eostre, Eostra, whatever (the holiday is Ostern in the various dialects of German). So in ancient Anglo-Saxon the word for Easter entered the language as Eostre or Eastre and that word held in England even after the Norman conquest (though obviously not in the British/Gaelic speaking sections of the British Isles). So the words are linked through the name of the (long forgotten) central Asian (Proto-Indo-European) deity that gave its name to both Ishtar and Ostara/Oestre/Eostre/Eostra, but this only happens in *some* of the Germanic languages (as neither the Dutch nor the Norse named the holiday for Ostara/Oestre/Eostre).
- The holiday is pretty clearly linked to the Hebrew passover holiday, as the traditional setting for the crucifixion. Hence the prevalence of the names etymologically linked to Pesach.
- “But Peter Cottontail and Easter eggs, ZOMG!!!!” The hare was an ancient Germanic symbol of the vernal equinox. After Christianity took hold amongst the Germanic tribes of central Europe the Spring Hare became the Easter Hare. Again, these traditions are strictly Germanic. Neither the Romans nor Greeks knew aught of the Easter Bunny. He was more than a millennium in the future. The medieval Germans knew little of the Middle Eastern Ishtar. Of course, the Germanic traditions spread to England after the Anglo-Saxon conquest. And, ultimately, England spread its traditions to the planet (look sometime at a map of the British empire in the late 19th century). At the very least they spread them to the US where Hallmark spread them everywhere.
- The Easter Bunny probably owes much of its enduring popularity to American greeting cards. German immigrants brought the Easter Hare to Pennsylvania in the 18th century and in true American fashion cardmakers remade the stern, Lutheran Osterhase into the warm, cuddly Easter Bunny.
- The Easter Hare tradition didn’t have a lot of luck elsewhere. German Lutherans brought the tradition to Sweden with them in the 19th century, but somewhere along the way of translating Osterhase to the Swedish Påskharen the latter got garbled into Påskkarlen, which would be Easter Wizard in English (and really you would think that the Easter Wizard would be a lot more fun).
- The Easter Bunny became universal in the 1950s with an American children’s book about Peter Cottontail, an ensuing Gene Autry hit song about the character and the famous holiday cartoon they made of it (repeating the pattern established with Santa’s most famous reindeer).
- So, no, Easter wasn’t “a pagan holiday that evil christians stole!!!!” it was an ancient Hebrew holiday that was alleged to be the backdrop for the crucifixion, and traditionally the holiday was celebrated on the third day after Passover.
- This led to a problem, because basing the date on the day of Pesach required priests to either know the Hebrew calendar (the Hebrew calendar is lunar, unlike the Roman/Gregorian one, which is solar, so they don’t synch) or ask local Jewry for the date to celebrate the resurrection. To make it easy they chose another way to calculate the date. Starting in the 4th century it became the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (also known as the Paschal Moon, no doubt thanks to Ishtar). Because everyone could calculate that.
Thus endeth your history lesson, thank you and good night.