The unchristian etymology of Easter

IT’S CERTAINLY not flattering to the Christian world that the word Easter traces back its history to the pagan festival honoring Ishtar – the Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex.

A later version traces “Easter” to the name of a pre-Christian goddess in England, Eostre. The only reference to this goddess came from the writings of Venerable Bede, an eighth-century British monk.

It is unknown why it has evolved to mean the “resurrection” of Jesus Christ on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after March’s vernal equinox – the moment at which the sun is directly above the equator.

We Christian Filipinos are familiar with the line, “Aprub without thinking.” And so it goes with our belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The death-and-resurrection accounts of apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John gave no details on events that transpired in the 40 days that the resurrected Jesus spent before ascending into the sky.

The resurrection was “fulfillment” of the cryptic promise made by Jesus Christ to his apostles shortly before his crucifixion:  “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).”

The late British philosopher Bertrand Russell, seeing no plausible explanation to sustain the resurrection story, wrote, “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my own ego will survive.”

Defenders of the faith riposte that if Jesus had not risen, then Christianity as a religion could not have thrived.

While researching the internet for this column, I stumbled upon brief references to Jesus from archived accounts of three historians who lived shortly after Jesus’ life on earth, namely Lucian, Josephus and Tacitus.

In his play “The Death of Peregrine,” Lucian (circa 120) wrote about Peregrine, who worshipped “the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult to the world.”

In Rome, in the year 93, Josephus wrote the history of the Jews, where he discussed the period in which the Jews were governed by Pontius Pilate:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. He won over many Jews and Greeks. When Pilate sentenced him to the cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease.  He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life.”

The Roman historian and senator Tacitus referred to Christ’s crucifixion in one page of his final work, Annals (written ca. AD 116).

Since none of the three Roman historians embraced the then nascent Christianity, they made no confirmation of Jesus’ divine nature. Nevertheless, since Jesus had told his disciples that he would rise again three days after death, failure to keep that promise would have exposed him as a fraud. Unfortunately, none of the three historians had lived early enough to have heard that “promise”; they had presumably relied on their ascendants’ word of mouth.

On the other hand, the Jews reject the resurrection story as false; they do not accept the idea of a Messiah who dies and lives again. To them, Jesus never founded a religion separate from Judaism. To them, Jesus was a Jew who lived in Israel and taught Jewish religion.

Taken at face value, the resurrection could be classified as a supernatural phenomenon, hence incapable of scientific authentication. Since it is bereft of solid evidence gathered from more than two thousand years ago, I remain skeptical but open-minded on the matter. (


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