It’s a common belief that Easter is pagan. One claim is that the name is derived from Ostare or Eostre, a pagan goddess. I tweeted in response to various tweets claiming such nonsense. I had an interesting discussion with a very opinionated lady. I want to post a few notes here on how seemingly educated people are drawn into this nonsense, and how bizarre their arguments can be.
First, though, a few preliminary points:
- This would affect only English and German celebrations of the Christian Passover, because only in those languages does the name of the celebration resemble Ostare/Eostre. That alone makes it a weak argument.
- Ostare/Eostre never existed. The only evidence is a single quote from Venerable Bede, and no historical evidence can back it up. It was made more popular by the Brothers Grimm.
- No, don’t be obtuse. By that I do not mean the actual goddess never existed as a real being. Of course she didn’t. What I mean is that nobody ever believed in her.
- There is no historical evidence, apart from Bede as the primary source, that any folklore or religion included a goddess called Ostare or Eostre. The word “oester” has been found in a religious context, but it’s not even clear that it refers to a goddess. The name “Easter” simply derives from “Ostarmonath” – “Easter month” or “month of opening” when flowers (in German spring) budded and opened. That the months’ name came from a pagan goddess is doubtful, and even if it did, it’s a linguistic artifact, much like “God” and “January” are derived from a Teutonic word for a deity and a Roman god respectively.
To Twitter. I’ll look at some of the interesting claims and the peculiar reasoning.
Supposedly Easter is pagan. Everything is pagan.
Easter eggs were supposedly incorporated into Easter by 17th century Christians. Probably from paganism.
That’s the first evidence of ignorance, right at the beginning of the discussion. Let’s pretend that’s true. In the 17th century, Christians were radically anti-pagan and on the defensive. Catholics were being accused of paganism by Protestants, so it’s hardly likely they would start adopting pagan practices at that time. Protestants were actively avoiding anything seemingly pagan, so they wouldn’t be doing that either.
But the date is wrong. Someone decided to write something, without knowing the facts, and then it got copied and pasted around the internet. The real facts? Eggs were used long before the 17th century. Pagan? No. There are several theories about the origin of egg usage. In Wester Christianity, they seem to date back to 200 years before the above claim, and appear to be the result of Lent ending. In Lent, traditionally eggs were excluded because of fasting. Fasting ends, people eat lots of eggs. In the East, long before that – probably derived from the Jewish practice of eating eggs as part of the mourning period after someone’s death. Jesus died, therefore eggs. Eggs stained red – this represented the blood of Christ. Chocolate eggs? Commercialism, not paganism.
The date of Easter is based on a lunar calendar. Moon = pagan. Therefore Easter is pagan.
The Jewish calendar’s derivation of Easter was based on the full moon and the discovery of ripe barley. Christians continued celebrating the Christian version of Passover to commemorate Jesus’ death. We didn’t adopt a pagan lunar cycle in order to calculate the date for Christian Passover. We adopted it from Judaism.
Yule became Christmas, Ostara became Easter
Similarity doesn’t mean one was derived from the other. Yule became Christmas could only be a potentially valid claim if Christians started celebrating Jesus’ birth only after contact with Germanic people celebrating Yule. The problem there is that Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth before the invention of Yule. Another problem there is that Yule and Christmas didn’t coincide until the king of Norway rescheduled Yule to coincide with Christmas. The local people didn’t want to get rid of their pagan customs after conversion. That doesn’t mean the Church adopted them. Jesus’ birth was already being celebrated by Christianity. And Ostara? Jesus’ death and resurrection had been celebrated as part of the Christian continuation of Passover from the beginning, and only in English and German does the name of the celebration resemble the name of a goddess for whom there is no historical evidence apart from Bede.
Then comes a whopper. This is delightful. I get asked to find Easter in the Bible.
“Here, do me a favor. Find Easter in the Bible.”
Easy. Christians believe Jesus died at Passover as our Passover lamb. We simply continued celebrating Passover in a Christian context. That’s all in the last few chapters of each of the Gospels.
Her response – an even bigger, more bizarre whopper:
“Yes, you chose that particular Biblical event to assign to what you call Easter (which I’m guessing you think is a coincidence that it comes from the name Ostara), but there is no Biblical doctrine saying to celebrate that as a holiday. Ostara is older than Passover.”
There is SO much wrong there it’s unbelievable. I’ll work backwards.
“Ostara is older than Passover.” … “you think is a coincidence that it comes from the name Ostara”
There is no evidence for Ostara. Passover began at the time Israel left Egypt, within the broad range of 1200-1500 BC.
“no Biblical doctrine saying to celebrate that as a holiday”
There is a biblical command for Israel to celebrate Passover. Jesus died at Passover as our Passover lamb. He told us to celebrate the New Covenant – “Do this in memory of me.” So Christians did so. But that is irrelevant to her. She uses a diversionary tactic. She is ignorant of the biblical instruction, and uses that ignorance to deflect from the real issue. Even if there were no instruction to celebrate Passover or Jesus as our Passover lamb, that would make no difference to the origin of the Christian celebration of it. She is just using an ill-informed statement to deflect.
“you chose that particular Biblical event to assign to what you call Easter”
I chose that particular Biblical event to assign???
No. History shows us that:
- St Polycarp, a first and second century Christian, disciple of the Apostle John, celebrated the Christian Passover related to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Pope Anicetus, pope in the mid-2nd century, celebrated the Christian Passover related to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- St Irenaeus, 2nd century Christian, celebrated the Christian Passover related to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Eusebius, 3rd and 4th century historian, reports on the celebration the Christian Passover related to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- 1st Council of Nicaea, 4th century, resolved the controversy about the timing of the Christian Passover related to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- And so on down the centuries.
And she says I chose that particular event to assign to the celebration of Easter! As if early Christianity randomly adopted a celebration of a dubious goddess whose name sounds like “Easter” and then assigned a different reason for the celebration? Wow, just wow. Talk about a strongly opinionated ignorance of history.
Near the end, I get referred to a Wikipedia page on Christianity and paganism, along with this:
“Here’s a comprehensive read with sources, otherwise known as Historical Fact”
So far she hadn’t managed to get her capitalised “Historical Fact” right – be it about Ostara, the biblical origins of Passover’s timing, or the historical use of the Passover by Christians. Now she provides me with Wikipedia.
So, I’ll give a brief commentary on what that page claims:
- First, be careful with Wikipedia. It’s not unbiased. While an article on the Hubble telescope is likely to be unbiased, an article on a controversial issue like paganism in Christianity is likely to attract people who want to discredit Christianity.
- That said, it’s a fair page, but not without error.
- It claims that the pagan vernal equinox celebration was Christianised as the Annunciation to Mary of Jesus’ conception by the angel Gabriel. No. The Christians had calculated, using biblical evidence, the timing of Jesus’ birth to late December. Pregnancy lasts 9 months. So, Jesus was conceived 8 months before late December, which is late March. Whether the calculations were correct is irrelevant. It was biblical interpretation that produced those dates, not paganism.
- Influence on Christian thinking? Technically, that’s not paganism. Systems of reasoning and argument are not pagan principles simply because they’re used by pagans any more than recipes or sports are. The early Christians, following the Apostle John’s use of the Logos principle to describe Jesus, thought highly of Greek thinking. Not Greek gods. Not Greek religion. Greek thinking. Nothing in the Bible says “You must think like Jews forever.“
- Early Christian persecution? As the article shows, Christians died for their religion. Emperors told them to worship them, or to offer sacrifices to their gods. If they did so, they weren’t killed. Christians died or went underground. Those who obeyed the emperors were repudiated. That is a real influence of paganism on Christianity – and the influence caused Christianity to, for a while, go underground because they couldn’t accept what the influence of paganism was trying to impose on them. Those with the paganism agenda like to tell us that Christians just adopted paganism. That doesn’t match up to real historical fact.
- When Christianity became legal and anti-paganism laws introduced, pagan temples were destroyed. Some were converted to churches. An obelisk from Egypt was carried to Rome and is in the Vatican to this day. Did Christians celebrate their legitimacy by worshipping pagan gods? Nope. They established victory of Christianity over paganism in a visible, tangible way – remove the paganism and plant Christianity in its place. Confiscate a pagan obelisk and mount it as a sign of victory over paganism. It’s hard to believe that Christians, after years of persecution, came out of their persecution and abandoned their faith and adopted the religion of those who persecuted them.
It’s interesting that you’re Catholic but you don’t seem to know your history, or even the etymology of the word. “Catholicism” is a Christian sect that was invented as a means to bridge the gap between Christianity and Paganism after the invasion of specifically Celtic lands
According to her, Catholic history is adopting, out of the blue, a pagan Passover, and then attributing it retrospectively to biblical events. And now Catholicism was invented after invasion of Celtic areas to bridge the gap between Christianity and Celtic paganism. That is just so ridiculous you have to laugh.
To sum up, here we have a problem of someone who has blindly adopted an opinion that suits her worldview, whose “facts” are unsupported by legitimate history. Christians have left behind writings from every century since the beginning of Christianity. Reading them leaves no doubt that, in each successive generation, Christians based their beliefs on the Bible and their own beliefs and practices, and not on paganism. There is a clear, continuous presence of one faith. They used philosophies other than Judaism, but they reasoned it all out with the Bible, and rejected what didn’t correlate with biblical truth, and accepted what did. It’s a fascinating read. Modern Christianity is well-supported as originating in authentic Christian beliefs supported by biblical practices and biblical interpretation.
What about perversions due to commercialisation? Decorated eggs and hot cross buns may have a legitimate Christian origin, but shops filled with chocolate eggs and chocolate chickens and chocolate chip hot cross buns are a commercialisation of Christianity. Matzos may have a legitimate Jewish origin, but shops sell more of it during the Jewish Passover season. Some commercialisation is good, some is bad, none of it is pagan. At best it means we can get traditional Christian or Jewish food more easily. And shops employ people and need to make money to pay them and make a profit. Earning an income is a basic human need. At worst, it’s opportunistic greed. The former is good, the latter is bad.
The lesson here is that millions of people have fallen for fake facts, and can’t differentiate between them and real history. Real historians disagree legitimately on many things. Public perception takes those things and builds dogma out of them. Dogma held by some Christians and atheists – the word “Easter” is supposedly pagan, even though most Christians use an unrelated word derived from the Hebrew “Pesach“, and therefore the entire celebration has nothing to do with Christ. It’s hard to abandon one’s own opinions, and Twitter is not a suitable place for a proper education in real historical facts. Don’t fall for common misconceptions. Look deeper.
Easter is Not Pagan … by InspiringPhilosophy, YouTube