Origin of term "Easter"

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I have heard it said that the term Easter comes from the worship of the Babylonian goddess Isthar. I have also heard that it comes from the worship of the sun…which rises in the East. What’s the truth?
 
Dear Considering,

The word Easter does come from Ishtar. As for what actually happens as far as worship, there is a world of difference. This is just another example of the Church changing water into wine, so to speak. I think it’s great!
 
No scholar of repute believes that the word “Easter” comes from a Babylonian god, since the word is Nothern European in origin!

Here’s the real scoop:
Easter is said to be pagan because it falls near the Vernal Equinox and because many believe that the word Easter comes from “Eostra” or “Ostara”, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring. This would seem to make Easter a remnant of some pagan Spring festival in honor of Eostra. [Contrary to one popular opinion, Easter does not derive from “Ishtar”, who was a Middle Eastern goddess. The word did not originate in the Middle East; it is definitely of northern European origin.]
Yet this theory is disputed. Some philologists say that Easter comes from the word “east”, referring to the rising of the sun, a metaphor for the Resurrection of Christ (see Malachi 4:2). The *Dictionary of Bible and Religion * mentions yet another possible origin:
More recent studies seem to indicate that Easter may be derived from the Latin phrase hebdomada alba
, the old term for Easter week based upon the wearing of white robes by the newly baptized. The octave of Easter, the following week, was known as post albas, the time when the white robes were put away…Easter may thus mean “white” and be named from early Christian baptismal practices.

{“Easter”, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1986) 287}

The statement above regarding early Christian hostility toward paganism also fits well in this case. Why would Christian missionaries tolerate the syncretistic mixing of the feast of Christ’s Resurrection with a spring fertility festival dedicated to a pagan goddess?

Even if Easter is derived from Eostra/Ostara, that would only prove a pagan influence on Christians who spoke Germanic tongues. For not all Christians call the Feast of the Resurrection “Easter”. Byzantine Christians use the Greek term Pascha, a transliteration of the Hebrew word Pesach, or Passover. Pascha is also the name of this feast in Latin, the official language of the Roman Rite. The Romance languages reflect this usage; the Italian word Pasqua, the French Paques and the Spanish Pascua each derive from Pascha, and ultimately from Pesach.

Thus the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection has two names among Christians: Pascha, or Passover, and Easter, which may connote “sunrise” or “white”. Either way, the feast is truly Christian, not pagan.

A final problem remains: some who believe in the pagan origin of these holidays actually state that any Christian who celebrates them is unknowingly worshipping pagan deities. We can answer this by pointing out that a Christian who celebrates Easter does not intend to worship the goddess Eostra, but to commemorate the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God looks upon the heart and sees His child’s intention to worship Him, so He does not mistake it for idolatry.
 
Excelent explanation DV :clapping:

I am going to print that and try and memorise most of it.

I often hear every Easter that I am celebrating a pagan ritual, but never know how to respond.

Love Kellie
 
Dear DominvsVobiscvm,

I am certainly not a “scholar of repute”, just a struggling mendicant. Nevertheless, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“The English term, according to the Ven. Bede (De temporum ratione, I, v), relates to Estre, a Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and spring, which deity, however, is otherwise unknown…”

And i suppose the Venerable Bede is not a scholar of repute either. Anyway, I don’t think it is out of the question or even out of the ordinary for a goddess in pagan Babylon to have a semantic similarity to one in northern Europe…especially given the fact that Ishtar (which means “lightgiver”, unless I am mistaken again) was sort of a “catch-all” goddess and was quite popular.

Either way, I don’t think it makes any difference if the word is pagan in origin and some practices we now have (like the Easter Vigil fire) had precendence in paganism.
 
Brother,

There are, indeed, some scholars who believe the word comes from a Teutonic goddess.

None, that I know of, beleives it comes from a Babylonian god.

That’s what I meant.

That having been said, it seems to me that scholarly opinon is shifting to the opinion quoted above.
 
Factoid of the Day:

In Acts 12:4, the NIV uses the word “Passover,” while the KJV uses the word “Easter”
 
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Vincent:
Factoid of the Day:

In Acts 12:4, the NIV uses the word “Passover,” while the KJV uses the word “Easter”
And most Christianized cultures use a variation of the word Passover for Easter (“Pesach,” etc.). Only Germanic and English based cultures call it “Easter”.
–Ann
 
Yep. In French, the word Easter is “Paques”, referring to the Paschal Sacrifice of Our Savior.
 
I had done some research on this some time ago, the results of which I have posted on another forum which unfortunately seems to be down at present. However, what I found was that the word “easter” appears to be derived from the old teutonic german for “resurrection”. When the other forum is up, I’ll copy what I posted there over here.

Something that should not suprise people is that many words look similiar because they have a common root. Thus the german word for “dawn” where the sun comes up again is not disimiliar to the word for resurrection. and because the sun comes up in the East, the word for “east” is derived from the same word.

John
 
Here you go, Ostern/Easter is most likely derived from “erstehen”, which is the old Teutonic form of “auferstehen/auferstehung” meaning “resurrection”.

John.
 
I’ve heard it was an old germanic word for resurection.
 
Aw, darn. I always thought it was named after that island with all the big spooky statues. 🤷

I like to reply to this accusation by pointing out that our days of the week and months of the year are mostly named for pagan gods, so my non-catholic adversary better immediately draft some new names for our days and months to avoid practicing paganism. Oh, wait, it’s the intent that matters when using the names of days and weeks — just like it’s the intent that matters when celebrating Easter.
 
Even if Easter is derived from Eostra/Ostara, that would only prove a pagan influence on Christians who spoke Germanic tongues. For not all Christians call the Feast of the Resurrection “Easter”. Byzantine Christians use the Greek term Pascha, a transliteration of the Hebrew word Pesach, or Passover. Pascha is also the name of this feast in Latin, the official language of the Roman Rite. The Romance languages reflect this usage; the Italian word Pasqua, the French Paques and the Spanish Pascua each derive from Pascha, and ultimately from Pesach.
I just thought it was worth repeating this. So many in the Protestant English-speaking world forget that English has never been “the language of the Church”. They forget that they don’t now, and never have, speak of “Easter” (or similar) in the Vatican, or in the East, or in most of Europe. It’s a tempest in a provincial teapot.
 
I have heard it said that the term Easter comes from the worship of the Babylonian goddess Isthar.

There is no truth in this - it is entirely false. And it’s not often one can say that 🙂

Easter is a Christian feast - even it had nothing to do with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from death, that would be no evidence (let alone proof) that it has any connection with Ishtar. In reality, it does commemorate the Resurrection. Ishtar OTOH was a goddess of sexuality & war - what has that to with the life-giving Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord ? Is Jesus Christ worshipped by
  • sacred transvestites
  • sacred male prostitutes
  • sacred female prostitutes
  • Ishtar was. The religion that included worship of her, was all-encompassing: it included everything from sodomy to prophecy, animal sacrifice to divination by the stars. Parts of it are very like features in the religion of the OT Israelites & Jews - other parts are not.
If Ishtar-worship is the cause of Easter, why is Easter not called Easter by most Christians ? It’s Pascha in Greek & Latin; Easter is what English-speakers call it. How did the word get from Babylonia to England ? The burden of proof is on those who claim there is a connection.

There is a Sumerian myth, the Descent of Inana (Ishtar is the Semitic equivalent of Inana), in which Inana tries to win control of the underworld from her sister (?) Ereshkigal. She dies & is impaled, then (after her minister Ninshubur has petitioned two gods unsuccessfully) restored to life by a third. The price of her return is the death of her husband Dumuzi.

That is the closest Ishtar-Inana gets to being resurrected: if the similarity proved anything, it would be an objection less to Easter than to the Resurrection of Christ.

A goat can be described as a butter 🙂 - that does not mean that a goat is suitable for spreading on toast. *Being able *to find a connection between “Easter” & “Ishtar” is not proof that they should be connected: that would be like arguing that “Babylon” is the origin of the word “baby”: I saw that on a site which was trying to show that Christmas was Babylonian.

This Easter-Ishtar idea arose only because the author who made it had no knowledge whatever of the languages he based this claim on; and repeating it down the years has not made it any more true.

Hope that helps 🙂
 
There is absolutely no evidence for a Germanic goddess with a name “Eostre” in any way resembling the word “Easter”. Rather than the term being derived from a goddess, the supposed goddess is derived from the term. She was postulated by certain 19th century Germanic scholars in an attempt to explain the etymology of the word. These same scholars (foremost among them the Grimm brothers, famous for their folk-tale collections and less well-known as the discoverers of the “Indo-European” linguistic family) had a very definite nationalist/ethnic agenda in which they were trying to rediscover the “real” roots of German culture. Thus the folk-tale collection’s avowed purpose was to search for “survivals” of pre-Christian Germanic religion and culture.

The later connection of this invented figure to Astarte or Ishtar was sheer fundamentalist propaganda based on a coincidental similarity in sound. Having dismissed Nativity/Christmas because it’s timing coincides with a number of pagan solar festivals, those fundamentalist groups which criticise all celebration of “holy days” thereby sought to discredit “Easter” whose general timing is well laid out in the Bible. If there was a connection, it would be the only case of a Sumerian/Canaanite word coming into the Germanic languages without first passing through Hebrew and/or Greek into Latin and then into Germanic via the medium of Christianity.

There is some by no means conclusive evidence of a festival or holy day connected to the spring solstice. However, every recorded instance of the word’s usage has clear Christian connotations (i.e., if it ever was a pagan festival, it had effectively disappeared by the time people wrote using the term “Easter”). As to why this word is used in English and German: It is used in German for the simple reason that the pagans of modern-day Germany were missionised by Anglo-Saxon Christians such as St. Willibrord or the two St. Hewalds. The Germans thus got “Easter” the same way the Russians got “Pascha” - from those who missionised them.

The only mention of a goddess Eostre is recorded in Bede’s 8th century 'De tempore Ratione"('On the Reckoning of Time) - the book which helped popularise BC/AD dating. Since there is no
other corroborating evidence Bede may be mistaken. However the
term for Easter was not named from this doubtful Goddess. Instead it is most likely that Easter (Pascha) comes from the Saxon month of Eostre (April) which was used for the spring period.

In other words, the term ‘Easter’ no more honours Eostre than a ‘Wednesday Night Service’ at your local Protestant church honours Odin (Wednesday=Woden’s Day).

In England itself, this is the type of theoretical issue Anglo-Saxonists enjoy arguing. There appears to have been a very strong cultural bias among the Anglo-Saxons against other languages. While their Latin missionaries and then their own churchmen obviously knew and used Latin, there was remarkably little borrowing from Latin into English at this time. In almost every instance, the English Church took existing English words to express ecclesiastical terms (thus “sanctus” was translated by “haelig” [holy, healthy, whole] and Old English uses haelige John not St. John, “haeliged” [hallowed] rather than sanctified, etc) rather than simply borrowing the Latin (the modern preponderance of Latin loan words for ecclesiastical terms is a product of the post 1066 Norman invasion) In addition to Latin books, Old English had the most active vernacular literature (primarily Christian) of any Western area prior to the millennium. There is an extant translation of the gospel of John which is the oldest translation of the Bible into a western vernacular with the exception of Bishop Wulfilas Arian translations into Gothic (itself
another Germanic language).

IOW, the presence of the word “Easter” is actually a product of the vibrant “Orthodoxy” of the Anglo-Saxon Church which unlike later periods did not suppress the resident culture in favour of an all-embracing Latinism but rather transformed (in accord with the guidelines given to St. Augustine of Canterbury by St. Gregory the Great) the entire language and culture.

Although I myself generally use “Pascha” because it is the common usage among Orthodox now, I find attempts to dismiss as “pagan” a true survival of English Orthodoxy very problematic.
 
Word-list (from J.R. Clarke-Hall’s A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary)

east I. adj. east, easterly. II. adv. eastwards, in an easterly direction, in or from the east
eastan from the east, easterly
eastanwind east wind
eastcyning eastern king
eastdael eastern quarter, the East
easte the East
eastende east-end, east quarter
Eastengle the East Anglians: East Anglia
Easteraefen Easter-eve
Easterdaeg Easter-day, Easter Sunday
Easterfaestan Easter-fast, Lent
Easterfeorm feast of Easter
Easterfreolsdaeg the feast day of Passover
Eastergewuna Easter custom (appears only in the 9th century sermons of Aelfric where he is reffering to Christian Easter practices)
Easterlic belonging to Easter, Paschal
Eastermonath Easter-month, April
Easterne east, eastern, oriental
Easterniht Easter-night
Eastersunnandaeg Easter Sunday
Eastersymble Passover (lit. Easter gathering)
Eastertid Eastertide, Paschal season
Easterthenung Passover
Easterwucu Easter Week
and then we return to compounds of “east-” [eastern x] except for the
nominative
Eastre Easter, Passover, (possibly) Spring.

Furthermore, there does not seem to be any English form of the word “Pascha”; England never called the feast anything but Easter. And while I find the etymological connection of Easter and astiehen (to rise up) doubtful, the pun of Eastre, astah (risen) is very obvious in Anglo-Saxon.
 
FWIW, most European languages use some form derived from the Hebrew word PESACH for the feast of Christ’s Resurrection:

Greek and Latin: Pascha
Spanish: Pascua
Russian: Pascha (or Paskha, depending on how it’s transliterated)
French: Paquês
Italian: Pasquale

Only English and most Germanic languages use the word Easter.

Even so, PASCHA is the preferred word by Orthodox and most Byzantine Catholics.
 
There is absolutely no evidence for a Germanic goddess with a name “Eostre” in any way resembling the word “Easter”. Rather than the term being derived from a goddess, the supposed goddess is derived from the term. She was postulated by certain 19th century Germanic scholars in an attempt to explain the etymology of the word. These same scholars (foremost among them the Grimm brothers, famous for their folk-tale collections and less well-known as the discoverers of the “Indo-European” linguistic family) had a very definite nationalist/ethnic agenda in which they were trying to rediscover the “real” roots of German culture. Thus the folk-tale collection’s avowed purpose was to search for “survivals” of pre-Christian Germanic religion and culture.

The later connection of this invented figure to Astarte or Ishtar was sheer fundamentalist propaganda based on a coincidental similarity in sound. Having dismissed Nativity/Christmas because it’s timing coincides with a number of pagan solar festivals, those fundamentalist groups which criticise all celebration of “holy days” thereby sought to discredit “Easter” whose general timing is well laid out in the Bible. If there was a connection, it would be the only case of a Sumerian/Canaanite word coming into the Germanic languages without first passing through Hebrew and/or Greek into Latin and then into Germanic via the medium of Christianity.

There is some by no means conclusive evidence of a festival or holy day connected to the spring solstice. However, every recorded instance of the word’s usage has clear Christian connotations (i.e., if it ever was a pagan festival, it had effectively disappeared by the time people wrote using the term “Easter”). As to why this word is used in English and German: It is used in German for the simple reason that the pagans of modern-day Germany were missionised by Anglo-Saxon Christians such as St. Willibrord or the two St. Hewalds. The Germans thus got “Easter” the same way the Russians got “Pascha” - from those who missionised them.

The only mention of a goddess Eostre is recorded in Bede’s 8th century 'De tempore Ratione"('On the Reckoning of Time) - the book which helped popularise BC/AD dating. Since there is no
other corroborating evidence Bede may be mistaken. However the
term for Easter was not named from this doubtful Goddess. Instead it is most likely that Easter (Pascha) comes from the Saxon month of Eostre (April) which was used for the spring period.

In other words, the term ‘Easter’ no more honours Eostre than a ‘Wednesday Night Service’ at your local Protestant church honours Odin (Wednesday=Woden’s Day).

In England itself, this is the type of theoretical issue Anglo-Saxonists enjoy arguing. There appears to have been a very strong cultural bias among the Anglo-Saxons against other languages. While their Latin missionaries and then their own churchmen obviously knew and used Latin, there was remarkably little borrowing from Latin into English at this time. In almost every instance, the English Church took existing English words to express ecclesiastical terms (thus “sanctus” was translated by “haelig” [holy, healthy, whole] and Old English uses haelige John not St. John, “haeliged” [hallowed] rather than sanctified, etc) rather than simply borrowing the Latin (the modern preponderance of Latin loan words for ecclesiastical terms is a product of the post 1066 Norman invasion) In addition to Latin books, Old English had the most active vernacular literature (primarily Christian) of any Western area prior to the millennium. There is an extant translation of the gospel of John which is the oldest translation of the Bible into a western vernacular with the exception of Bishop Wulfilas Arian translations into Gothic (itself
another Germanic language).

IOW, the presence of the word “Easter” is actually a product of the vibrant “Orthodoxy” of the Anglo-Saxon Church which unlike later periods did not suppress the resident culture in favour of an all-embracing Latinism but rather transformed (in accord with the guidelines given to St. Augustine of Canterbury by St. Gregory the Great) the entire language and culture.

Although I myself generally use “Pascha” because it is the common usage among Orthodox now, I find attempts to dismiss as “pagan” a true survival of English Orthodoxy very problematic.

Very informative 🙂

What makes things worse is that people who repeat this Ishtar-Easter tosh never say what they mean by “pagan”. Failing to define words makes it possible to use them imprecisely - & this is just what happens.

…more…]
 
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