Like 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…
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?