Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ishtar & Easter


For the past few days, friends have been sharing the following post provided by the facebook page for The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (Original).  It shows a wonderful picture of the Assyrian/Babylonian goddess Ishtar standing upright as a relief on a wall.  Don't know excactly what the wall is part of, but it appears to be outside in the sun.  She holds a religious symbol in each hand.

The individual who posted the item has written the following text over the photograph:
"This is Ishtar:  prounounced "Easter"."
"Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonion goddess of fertility and sex.  Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think that eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?).  After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus.  But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about worshipping fertility and sex."

 Notes on the passage:
  • Constantine (also known as Constantine I and Constantine the Great) was the first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire. 
  • He is most famous for the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD where he witnessed a sign from God and for the Edict of Milan in 313AD.
  • The Edict of Milan legalized Christianity but did not make Christianity the official state religion.
  • Theodosius delcared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire during his reign - specifically in the year 380 AD.
I scrolled through the Richard Dawkins facebook page going back to January 1st, 2011, but could not find this particular posting.  However, since it has been shared via facebook, I have confidence that it is there somewhere.  But since I still cant find the original post, the author remains anonymous.  The only thing I know for certain is that he has permission to post on the Richard Dawkins Foundation page. 

Some of the premises of this posting are true, but others are false.  The conclusion is most definitely false.  Let's go through them one at a time.


  • Ishtar is indeed a goddess of sex, love, fertility, and war in the following cultures:  Eastern Semitic, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian.
  • In the Akkadian language, Ishtar is pronounced Istar.  I am not familar with Akkadian proununciations.  The "I" may be pronounced as a long e.  Even then, the "a" would likely be a dull "a" as in, "say, ah."  So the name would phonetically be ee-star - not ee-ster.
  • I was unable to find phonetic spellings in the other languages.  But that will prove irrelevant as you read on.
  • Her symbols are listed on wikipedia as a lion and an eight-pointed star.
  • Although there is no direct mention of eggs or bunnies in relation to Ishtar, it is not a stretch for these to be related to fertility goddesses.  Howerver, I find that enlarged (or multiple) breasts or large, pregnant bellies are more commonly associated with fertility/sex/love goddesses.


A simple timeline reveals a few incongruities:
  1. By 141 BC, Babylon was in complete devistation and obscurity.  Obscurity is pertinent here.  It is common for ancient civiizations to be completely forgotten.  A notable example is the Hittites.  For 2,000 years, any and all mention of the Hittites was found only in The Bible.  Many concluded that they were a fictitions civilization until 1906 AD, when confirmation of their existence was finally discovered at an independent excavation site.  It is therefor unlikely that the cult of Ishtar (or even the memory of it) would have survived for tho following 170 years when Christ was crucified.
  2. Approx. 30 AD:  Christ's curcifixion and resurrection.
  3. 295 to 305 AD:  Constantine lives in Syria.  Even though he lived in the neighborhood of the now completely disintigrated Babylonian/Assyrian empire, the cult of Ishtar would have been unknown for about 440 years.  How pwerful is obscurity?  What was going on in the year 1570 AD?
  4. 306 to 312 AD:  Constantine becomes Agustus Emporor over Britain, Gaul, and Spain.
  5. 312 to 324 AD:  Constantine is sole Emporor over all of the Roman Empire.
  6. 313 AD:  Constantine issues the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity (and all other religions as well).  This puts an end to oppression.  But the Edict of Milan does not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  This still misses the point.  Even if Christians in Rome converted a "fertility/sex goddess" into an Easter celebration, they would have choosen such a goddess from the Roman mythologies.  And then, according to the anonymous poster, Easter would be pronounced "Venus"
  7. 380 AD:  Theodosius I makes Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
  8. 900 AD (approx.):  the author, Bede, shows that the earliest use of the word Easter begins sometime during the 9th century AD.  This plays out in the etymology of the word "Easter" described below.

Roots of Easter (in name and act):

  • The roots of the Easter celabration are not from Assyria/Babylon - they're Jewish.  The original term for Easter is "Pasch" or "Pascha".  These words - Pasch & Pascha - are etymologically related to the Jewish "Passover" or "Pesach" in Hebrew.  To this day, many non-English speaking nations still refer to Easter as the "Pashca".
  • The Passover is not related to the Spring Equinox as many fertility festivals are.  Instead Passover is related to the 10 Curses on Egypt and the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt to Israel.
  • In addition, the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar.  Fertility festivals (such as those for Ishtar) are usually held at the Spring Equinox making them based on a solar calendar.
  • Why is Easter tied to Passover?  Jesus' last meal was the Passover sedar with the Apostles.  It was that evening when He was arrested and - over the next three days - tried, crucified, and resurrected.
  • The origin of the word "Easter" is just a little unclear (and I do mean just a little).  Most evidence points to the Old English word "Eastre" or "Eostre".  Many believe that this is dreived from Eostre, the goddess of the dawn (not a fertility/sex goddess).  However, others believe that "Eostre" as a word or phrase meaning "the month of opening" (as in a tomb?).
  • Continuing the Eostre theme.  Bede says that cult of the goddess Eostre had disappeared long before the Christians began using the word Eastre; indicating that they were not referencing the dawn goddess.  See Ishtar's "obscurity" above.
More on this history of Eostre, the dawn goddess, can be found on wikipedia.  Read it.  READ IT !.

Easter Eggs:

Symbolism is a tricky thing.  Imagine any otherwise inocuous object and connect it to semi-emotinal words.  For example, a door can be a symbol of what?  Opportunity, obstacle, change, passage, option, transition, uncertainty, mangled thumbs - the list can go on and on.  But does this mean that the cult of Monty Hall (Let's Make a Deal) believes that doors represent transitions because the god Janus guards the doorway between the old and the new year?  Survey says: "buuuzzzz".

Thsi is an excellent example of the logical fallacy Post hoc ergo propter hoc (after the fact therefore because of the fact).

So we get this from the anonymous poster: eggs and bunnies are symbols of the fertility goddess Ishtar, Ishtar came before Easter, and Ishtar sounds llike "Easter", therefore the eggs and bunnies of Easter are symbols of sex and fertility.  (I'll explain my faint trace of contempt at the end).

So, how or why did the earlty Christians associate an egg with the resurrection?  Several objects are associated with Jesus:  bread, wine, fish, the cross, and the tomb. 

Take the tomb.  To symbolize it, you want something that is common, represents a space, represents a rock/bolder, and represents life.  You could spend years digging holes into rocks or you can use the ubiquitous egg.  The egg represents the empty tomb, the boulder that was rolled away, and represents life (not sex or fertility) that springs from the tomb.

There are several Ester Egg origin stories shown here.  Enjoy them.

The Easter Bunny:

Again with symbolism and the "Post hoc" fallacy.

In this case, you need to know that the Easter Bunny is not a rabbit.  It's a HARE.  Hares are larger and usually have a murkish brown hue that approximates the color of nests made by ground-dwelling birds.  Hares also live above ground in nests - not in burrows as rabbits are wont to do.

Next, early historians and philosophers (including Pliney, Plutarch, Philostratus, and Aelian) believed that hares were hermaphrodites and could reproduce asexually - not needing to have a mate.  This biological error carried over for hundreds of years and Christians adopted it as a symbol of the Virgin Birth (yes a form of fertility, but not the form represented by Ishtar - who by the wasy was also goddess of prostitutes).

Then add in a few German Folklore stories.  In these tales there is a little confusion between bird's nests found on the ground and the color of a hare - or even between a bird's nest and a hare's nest.  This is one possible explanation of how the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs became connected.

Fianally, and almost completely different than the first three possibilities, some folklore tales see a rabbit in the moon - as opposed to a man's face.  And since Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Spring Equinox ... you fill in the rest. 

More on the Easter Bunny here.

My Conclusion and extraneous comments:

I have researched and compared Ishtar with Easter and found the Anonymous Poster's text misleading and derisive towards Christians.  You may find fault with my conclusions, but you must first tell me how I'm wrong on the facts.

The author sounds like he is (or has talked to) an archeologist or anthropologist who studied ancient mid-Eastern civilizatoins.  In order to connect Ishtar to Easter by way of homonym, you have to know a little about the culture's language and its deities.

Ironically, it's his assumed credentials that make his statements abusive.  He has studied ancient civilizations, but then connects them with the shallowest knowledge of Christianity.  Re-read his post.  He knows a bit about Ishtar, but all he knows about Easter is Eggs and Bunnies.  Ergo: we continue to woship pagan gods - especially those contrary to Christian beliefs.

He has a disdain for his reader that springs from a superior than thou (because of my obviously advanced intellect) attitude.  The phrase, "or did you actually think that eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?" sticks out like a sore thumb - in your eye.  "did you actually think" presumes that you did indeed think that.  It also presumes that he has gently mocked you for believing such a thing.  It drums up those who believe as he believes and automatically pits you (singular) against them (plural).  The phrase is insidiously designed to goad you into moving you closer to his opinion or risk being ostracized from the club.  Finally, it denotes that everyone knows about this - except for you.  Don't beleive me?  Try it this way:  "or did you actually think the world was flat?".

Bty the way, I never connected the egg with the resurrection before researching this topic.  But I do believe that I've shown EXACTLY how it fits in.

And the bunny?  He got that right, it's not about the resurrection - it's about the Virgin Birth.  Whether you believe in the Virgiin Birth or not, Mr. Anon's point was that the bunny is a pagan fertility symbol in a Christian celebration.  And I've shown it is not.

These kinds of statements and mockeries are why people believe a war exists against Christianity.  The author did not post any links to anything supporting his position.  Like a drive by shooting, he makes his comment (as erroneous as it is) and moves on into the darkness.

Even more mind-numbing:  An ameteur theologian such as myself shouldn't have been able to thrash a man of "reason and science" like this.  It only took a half-day for me to research these items and a half day to assemble them into a cohesive outline.  My typing is a bit slower.  Mr. Anon could and should have done the resarch and then should have had the intellectual capacity to compare the items in his own head.  That could have saved him an embarrasing post on facebook.

The Anonymous Poster is at least Friends with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (Original).

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (Original) has a mission statment at the top of its facebook page.  It reads:  "This foundation supports reason and science.  We organize to overcome the suffering and intolerance that springs from religious fundamentalism."

Reason?  Science?  Both were missing from this post.

Shame on you Anonymous Poster.
Shame on you R.D Foundation.

Russell Britt
In hoc signo winces


  1. .

    Actually, Easter and the Easter-egg came from the Egyptian Isis.

    In Egyptian Isis was called Ast or Est, from which we derive Ester or Easter (referring to a star or the heavens). And remember that Isis-Est was a fertility goddess, as much as she was the Queen of Heaven.

    And the Easter-egg came from the spelling, because Est was spelt with the easter-egg glyph. So yes, there are associations with fertility in the symbology of Est (Isis). Oh, and Ishtar (Isht-ar) came from the Egyptian Est (Isis), and not the other way around.

    (See: Cleopatra to Christ)

  2. "Unknown" has no clue about linguistics, though.

    According to the Wikipedia article titled "Hausos", the Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess was also the goddess of spring and also "had aspects of a love goddess", so she was indeed analogous to Ishtar in that respect, although the similarity of the words "Ishtar" and "Easter" is completely coincidental and there is no reason to assume a connection.