on Ishtar, myopic Anglocentrism and sloppy ‘scepticism’…

Ishtar‪Like last year, there’s a meme going around about Easter being the feast of Ishtar. Some people seem to like to share it to make fun of Christianity, but it actually makes no historical sense at all (especially if English is not your first name) though it’s going viral. It is (according to wikipedia) thought to originate from the Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science. I’m quite disappointed by that actually, I would hope to be able to expect more from a ‘Foundation for Reason and Science’ than  an argument just based bad wordplay that only works in English, combined with an even more sloppy history lesson.
The weird part of all of this is, that if you want you can find enough pagan and other influences in a lot of Christian tradition, including Easter. Why people would make these kind of things up is just beyond me…

See here, here and here for some intelligent reactions to refute the claims of this meme, of which the last one contains some very good advice:

The general rule of infographics and similar fare is that the more deliciously it skewers people you don’t respect very much, the more likely it is to be a fake.  Always good to consider before you click that “share” button.

To be short and repeat some things from those sources (you better read them yourself before your read on here though): There is no known connection between Ishtar and Eostre, which lend her name to Easter. There is only one ancient source about that second goddess anyway:  Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work De temporum ratione, about the calculation of Easter in this quote (All other sources are 18th century -Grimm, the one of the fairy tales indeed- and even more recent, and include academic speculations and  neo-pagan reconstructionism with not much connection to pre-Christian times):

15.  The English Months
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; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called. …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  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.  Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day…

So what does the only ancient source say? the feast is named after a month, which is named after a goddess which seems to be faraway and whose rites are replaced by ‘the new rite’, which was imported from Rome and Byzantium and does not originate with the Germans at all anyway. No connection to the new rite and the old goddess is made, nor is there any connection anywhere closer to the middle East between Ishtar or other ANE fertility goddesses and Christian easter celebrations.
The Easter bunny (which is a hare in Dutch, ‘de paashaas’, rabbits are not originally native in N-Europe nor Britain btw.) is indeed a fertility symbol which might be from Germanic origin, and seems indeed associated with Eostre, but not with Ishtar at all. There are no ‘bunnies’ in the middle East anyway, just hares and hyraxes. And I don’t think any intelligent Christian has ever considered the Easter bunny to be a biblical Christian symbol anyway. Eggs are another matter, they are certainly a pagan symbol of new life, but also an old Orthodox symbol (the Orthodox tradition has eggs that are painted red…) It’s very logical to use such symbolism of new life in a feast of the resurrection. But the placement of the feast is still from the Jewish passover (Pesach/Pascha), from which it has borrowed the name in all non-English languages except for one…

If it was based on the feast of Ishtar, it would be very unlikely that all Christians (including the middle-East which should still have a connection to those older gods, and the Romans including the Constantine guy named in the meme) except for some Germanic barbarians who were later to the party of Christianisation anyway to use the Jewish name… Those people are not important for the history of Christianity or for defining it anyway in that time. (If English-spraking Christianity has a role in the history of religion, it will only be in the last centuries, before that it’s just a  local business  anyway…)

Now back to the meme and why it irritates me, it’s not just and extremely sloppy argument, that only makes sense for English- (and German-) speaking people anyway. All other people including those using other Germanic languages name the feast after Pascha/Pesach, after it’s Jewish roots. So this very discussion can even only exist in English (and German-)speaking places…

Which brings me to the problem of Anglocentrism. Some people seem to think that the English language is the key to understanding the world, and this meme is a good example for that. This puts the people who share this meme on the same page as for example those weird KJV-only Christians. It’s not because some things do work in the English language, that they are true. Some things do only work because of the English language anyway. I’ve argued before that certain forms of Christian sexism wouldn’t even exist without the peculiarities of the English language and some discussions can’t even exist in other languages (including the ones in which the bible is written..) Pushing those things unto other people is just a weird form of intellectual colonialism.

I know there’s a lot of Anglo-centrism in the world (we have mainly English music on the radio in Flanders) but such an argument from a bad wordplay the English language is just bogus. Sorry, I won’t even consider it…

Another thing: Even more worrying to me is that this kind of stuff is shared mostly not by neo-pagans, but by atheists and self-proclaimed sceptics like Mr. Dawkins, which prove here to be not sceptical after all, but just happily accepting anything that goes against the traditions they don’t like, whether it’s accurate or not. One could not go farther away from the meaning of ‘scepticism’ than that actually.
It’s not because one claims to be a potato knife that one is a potato knife, even if you say it a hundred times, and the same is true for being a ‘sceptic’ of a freethinker, no matter how much people agree with you … You need to be sceptical and think for your own, not accept all the dogmas of a tradition that calls itself ‘sceptical’ and ‘freethinking’… Such a thing will easily slide astray into Orwellian doublespeak…  (see also my post scepticism about the age of scepticism about this)

The world does need a lot of healthy scepticism (a questioning attitude against every status-quo, not a rusty tradition that kicks against other traditions while unquestioningly accepting nonsense like this as a weapon in that fight!) indeed, but this is exactly NOT what’s needed then. If you critique something, please be truthful. If not, you do a disservice not only to the tradition you attack, but you undermine your own credibility too!

So please, can we stop making and sharing sloppy memes in any camp? Can we all please try to stick to as much truth as we can find and not spread lies, sloppy memes and nonsensical slander?

Or do I ask for too much here?



28 responses to “on Ishtar, myopic Anglocentrism and sloppy ‘scepticism’…

  1. Grant Lynn Ford

    This article still begs the question: Why are we celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus by naming it after an ancient goddess? Astarte, Ishtar or Eostre… Just asking.grant

    • Well, if I understand Bede it’s named after the month in which it was held, (equivalant for april) which was named after the goddess, that wasn’t worshipped actively anymore at the time he was writing. So it’s more of an etymological chain going back to the goddess than named directly after the goddess. (The word ‘God’ in our German languages itself can etymologically be traced to a German deity too btw)

      This is only the case in English and German though, all other languages derive their name from the Jewish feast and have variations on Pascha/Pesach, so the problem doesn’t exist for most Christians in the world.

      • bundesbedenkentraeger

        I still wonder if there ever was an Eostre or if Bede just thought so for gods played a role in the other month’s names. We need to remember that we have only one (!) witness for Eostre while there are two languages, and in German you might have a problem explaining how to get from Eostre to Ostern, while it would make perfect sense if in both cases the name was linked to the eastern direction (or “Osten” in German), which is where the sun rises which can be seen as a symbol for the resurrection as well.
        By the way: I read somewhere that the hare also played a role in christian iconography right into the middle ages, so one doesn’t even have to trace this to paganism in the first place…

    • Kevin Daugherty

      It is only named after a goddess in English. In most cultures, it is called Pascha or Passover, because it comes from the Jewish holiday.

  2. Great post!!

    Memes put forth by atheists are either so incredibly stupid or so factually inaccurate that I can’t imagine why they aren’t all laughed to scorn.

  3. If you spelled correctly -“dissapoint” (?)- assigned the proper voice/person to your nouns and noun phrases -“There is no known connection between Ishtar and Eostre, which lend her name to Easter”- and used commas and periods so that you did not form run-on sentences, perhaps I would be willing to give your argument more credence.

  4. You misspelled disappointed. Great article though.

  5. First of all, I share your irritation with memes that are inaccurate, sloppy, and have bad spelling or grammar. Secondly, your attempt to trivialize Grimm’s opinions is misplaced…in addition to the Grimm brothers’ important work in preserving the folklore and oral histories of Germany, they were both philologists (think linguistics here) who studied the history and etymology of language. Thus they were quite authoritative when speaking about where words come from and their connection to culture. Lastly, as to your assertion that Anglo-Saxon or Germanic peoples came “late to the party” of Christendom, I’m sorry but you are quite wrong there. Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries were spreading the Gospel in Gaul from the 400s onward, and were quite influential in the conversion of the Franks, the Normans, and other major medieval ethnic groups. At a certain point, there were more Anglo-Saxon missionaries, monks and priests in Gaul, Spain, and Italy than were in Great Britain!

    • I did not want to trivialise Grimm, I must correct some things if that’s how you read it. I’ll reread it later and maybe clarify some things if needed later. Thanks for the comment.

    • bundesbedenkentraeger

      I don’t think the Grimms are trivialized. But still, although they were philologists and did a great job, they are not free from mistakes. We have Eostre in one witness, so all their argument is more of a speculation, though aa educated speculation.
      It is well comprahensible why they speculated in the way they did if you consider the times back then and the theology of the days. It was state of the art to consider new gods and goddesses, but we have to remind ourselves that it was still consideration. Today, after we have not found any further witness for Eostre (or any witness for “Ostara”, which is how the Grimms reconstructed the Mainland-Germanic form of the goddess’ name) we can and should reconsider in how far we follow the Grimm’s speculations, shouldn’t we? As scepticists? 😉

  6. This is EXACTLY what I think every time I see that darned meme and it drives me crazy! Not only as a Christian but as a passionate (if also amateur) historian and linguist – it is poorly argued, chock-a-block full of mis-information and half-facts and based on the idea that everyone in the world calls this particular holiday “Easter”. So saddening that people believe this so quickly and assuredly, just because they can’t stand anything being Christian any more.

  7. Whether or not Oestre or perhaps Ostara is correctly applied and from when, is discussed in wikipedia (not the height of scholarship but has good info often) This is a quote “By way of linguistic reconstruction, the matter of a goddess called *Austrō in the Proto-Germanic language has been examined in detail since the foundation of Germanic philology in the 19th century by scholar Jacob Grimm and others. As the Germanic languages descend from Proto-Indo-European (PIE), linguists have traced the name to a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn *H₂ewsṓs (→ *Ausṓs), from which descends the Common Germanic divinity from whom Ēostre and Ostara are held to descend. Scholars have linked the goddess’ name to a variety of Germanic personal names, a series of location names in England, over 150 2nd century BCE matronae Austriahenae – inscriptions discovered in Germany, and have debated whether or not Eostre is an invention of Bede’s. Theories connecting Ēostre with records of Germanic Easter customs, including hares and eggs, have been proposed.”
    I agree with the original mention of Ishtar being absolutely NOTHING to do with Easter on any account.

  8. I did a little online research and it’s likely that the “Ishtar = Easter” meme comes from an apocalyptic Anglo-Israelist Christian denomination associated with Herbert W. Armstrong, whose eccentric rants I used to hear on a local radio station in the 1960s. Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God disapproved of celebrations of Christmas and Easter and believed that Anglo-Saxons descend from the lost tribes of Israel. See http://rcg.org/books/ttooe.html (A few days ago, this site was linked in the Wikipedia entry for Easter as a reference and I’m glad to see that it has been removed.)

    Armstrong, trying to prove a connection between Hebrew and English, also declared that “Saxon” comes from “Isaac’s son” and “Briton, British, Britain” are related to the second part of B’nai B’rith. Since he frowned on Easter celebrations, he decided that pagan Ishtar is the source of Easter on the basis of a few phonetic similarities. He didn’t waste much time with historical records or standard linguistics.

    Dictionary.com collects some good etymological summaries of the origin of “Easter,” which is cognate with German “Ostern.” Another English name of Germanic origin for a Christian festival is Yule (Old English Geol or Geola).

  9. Leoghann MacAlister

    Your link that begins “certain forms of Christian sexism . . .” is dead. I’m new to your blog and would really like to read the post.

  10. You mentioned people who had no connection to Christianity or influence concerning it, and one of the names was “that Constantine guy named in the meme. I was interested in what you were writing until then. Perhaps you should do your homework before you write these things. Constantine had MUCH to do with Christianity. I looked it up for you:

    “As emperor, Constantine enacted many administrative, financial, social, and military reforms to strengthen the empire. The government was restructured and civil and military authority separated. A new gold coin, the solidus, was introduced to combat inflation. It would become the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than a thousand years. The first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity,[notes 4] Constantine played an influential role in the proclamation of the Edict of Milan, which decreed religious tolerance throughout the empire. He called the First Council of Nicaea in 325, at which the Nicene Creed was professed by Christians.” Christians were finally able to come out of hiding and worship in the open due to this man. And the Nicene Creed is still said by many denominations today.

  11. Just wondering wth spelling has to do with this? Grow up

  12. bundesbedenkentraeger

    I am wondering why one would pronounce Ishtar like Easter. For me these are very distinct, especially the s sound (as in sow) and the sh sound (as in show)…

  13. .

    Regards Easter = Ishtar.

    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)

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