Every year at some point during or around Holy Week, the internet becomes saturated with pseudo-scholars claiming that Easter is of Pagan origin. A claim not rooted in empirical facts, research, or scholarship. In this blog I will present and source evidence which unequivocally proves that Easter does NOT derive from pagan origins and that the source of the Holy day of Easter is rooted in the resurrection of Christ alone.
The most prominent source of the myth that Easter originates from paganism is St. Bede the Venerable, (672-735) also called Venerable Bede. He was an Anglo-Saxon historian at the monastery of St. Peter in England. In his treatise, The Reckoning of Time, Bede contended:
"In olden time the English people -- for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people's observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation's -- calculated their months according to the course of the moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.
The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath…Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance…" (1)
"Eostre” is not listed in anyone’s history anywhere! The only source for this goddess is Bede himself...There is not a single reference to her, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, any of the other writings we have from the period, or from inscriptions. No depiction – no amulets – nothing.
The major problem with Bede’s assertion, is that the goddess “Eostre” is not listed in anyone’s history – anywhere! The only source for this goddess is Bede himself. Bede was an enthusiast for adopting pagan customs into Christianity and admitted in Modranecht (Mōdraniht) that this idea was his speculation, rather than facts of which he had first-hand knowledge. There is not a single reference to her, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, any of the other writings we have from the period, or from inscriptions. No depiction – no amulets – nothing. Her Germanic version was invented completely in the 19th century, and again has no evidence whatsoever from history or archaeology to back it up.
People who assert Easter’s pagan origin believe that Eostre, (Ishtar, Estre, Estara, Eastre, Ostara) is the goddess of the dawn and was worshipped in the spring by pagans in Northern Europe and the British Isles. In The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop claimed Eostre is actually a name derived from the Babylonian goddess Astarte. Hislop extended this connection to include goddesses from around the world: Ishtar, Ashtoreth, Venus, and others. In fact, Hislop argued that all of the systems of gods and goddesses find their origin with Nimrod and his wife Semiramis at the Tower of Babel.
Similar claims are made by Ralph Woodrow in his 1966 book Babylon Mystery Religion, but Woodrow drew heavily on Hislop’s work to support his claims…To those who have used Woodrow’s early work, please note that he has changed his position on many of the conclusions in the book. Woodrow has stopped circulating his early work and replaced it with an updated title The Babylon Connection? To demonstrate some of the false conclusions concerning pagan connections proposed by Hislop, Woodrow explains:
"Let's suppose that on May 10th a man was stabbed to death in Seattle. There were strong reasons for believing a certain person did it. He had motive. He was physically strong. He owned a large knife. He had a criminal record. He was known to have a violent temper and had threatened the victim in the past. All of these things would point to him as the murderer, except for one thing: on May 10th he was not in Seattle--he was in Florida! So is it with the claims about pagan origins. What may seem to have a connection, upon further investigation, has no connection at all!
By this method, one could take virtually anything and do the same—even the “golden arches” at McDonald’s! The Encyclopedia Americana (article: “Arch") says the use of arches was known in Babylon as early as 2020 B.C. Since Babylon was called “the golden city” (Isa. 14:4), can there be any doubt about the origin of the golden arches? As silly as this is, this is the type of proof that has been offered over and over about pagan origins. (2)
So, what is the truth about the origins of Easter? Easter is a transliteration of the Hebrew word Pesach. The Greek form is simply a transliteration and takes the form Pascha. Virtually all languages refer to Easter as either a transliterated form of pascha or use resurrection in the name. English and German stand apart in their use of Easter (Ostern) to refer to the celebration of the Resurrection.
Christian F. Cruse in a footnote in his work on the noted Greek Historian, Eusebius of Caesareas, wrote these words:
Our English word Passover, happily, in sound and sense, almost corresponds to the Hebrew [pesach], of which is a translation. Exod. 12:27. The Greek pascha, formed from the Hebrew, is the name of the Jewish festival, applied invariably in the primitive church to designate the festival of the Lord’s resurrection, which took place at the time of the passover. Our word Easter is of Saxon origin, and of precisely the same import with its German cognate Ostern. The latter is derived from the old Teutonic form of auferstehn, Auferstehung, i. e. resurrection. The name Easter is undoubtedly preferable to pascha or passover, but the latter was the primitive name. (3)
John Wycliffe was the earliest translator to publish a complete New Testament in English (1382). Wycliffe transliterated the word pascha to pask, rather than translating it. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German (New Testament in 1522), he chose the word Oster (German equivalent to Easter) to refer to the Passover references before and after the Resurrection.
William Tyndale translated the Bible into English from the Greek and Hebrew. His New Testament (1525) uses the word ester to refer to the Passover. In fact, we owe our English word Passover to Tyndale. When translating the Old Testament (1530), he coined the term to describe how the Lord would “pass over” the houses marked with the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12). The usage of ester was retained in the 1534 revision of the New Testament, and it was not until later that it was known as Easter, adding the a. Luther and Tyndale were the first to use a translation of pascha rather than a transliteration.
In conclusion, we have presented evidence that the word Easter and its meaning are directly tied to the historic event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There exists no empirical data, research, or information to substantiate the erroneous claim that Easter has its roots in pagan origin.
(1) From De ratione temporum 15. (The reckoning of time, tr. Faith Wallis, Liverpool University Press 1988, pp.53-54)
(3) Eusebius of Caesarea, An Ecclesiastical History to the Twentieth Year of the Reign of Constantine, 4th ed., trans. Christian F. Cruse (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1847), 221