Fundamentalist Etymologies

In which we deal with the old “‘Easter’ is really the worship of a pagan deity” chestnut trotted out by ignorant English-speakers this time every year.

Death and Laughter
153 Fishes and Related Matters
The Perspicuity of Scripture and Other Creation Myths
Two pieces at the Register...
  • ivan_the_mad

    Heh. This reminds me of the not uncommon but wrong etymology of gospel. It in truth derives from godspell, at which point for some it veers into folk etymology and becomes Harry Potter conspiracy.

    The byword for considering this sort of thing ought to be fulfilment, of the sort only Christ can bring.

    • Beadgirl

      What is the “not uncommon by wrong” etymology? The only one I know is from godspell.

      • ivan_the_mad

        They don’t consider that god and spell might not mean the same today as they did a millennium ago.

  • Alexander Anderson

    Apparently this most recent outbreak can be traced back to Richard Dawkins’ Facebook page (it has since been taken down). A tribute to the man’s unquestionable rationality, I suppose. Why do atheists care if we recycle pagan things? Don’t they not believe in either? What point is being made?

    • Beccolina

      The point that Christians are really stoopid and Christianity is discredited, of course. Isn’t that the favorite parlor game of the internet atheist? I’ve heard this trotted out by Wiccans, too. They also trot out the whole Halloween/Samheim thing too.

  • Scott Alt

    Yes, and Christmas was the feast of Tammuz, and the Catholic Mary is just the repackaged worship of Minerva.

    But it’s not just the fundamentalists. I was amazed to find this at Scientific American: shtar-the-tradition-of-eggs-at-easter/

  • Scott Alt
    • S. Murphy

      Money quote:” Clearly, we all know that Facebook memes are the ultimate source of information—particularly when they makes a biting point about something or some group that is not particularly favorably viewed. But it is well known that under the Roman Empire, Christianity did indeed adopt the pagan rituals of conquered peoples in an effort to help convert them. It worked pretty well as a strategy as it allowed the conquered peoples to continue a semblance of their observances as they remembered, and with time the population would be replaced with those who only knew the new traditions. This is not a secret. However, there are a few things wrong with the Ishtar meme that a simple Google search will turn up:” (Go there to see the examples)
      The Scientific American article is debunking the ‘Easter is Ishtar’ meme that was wandering lost on Facebook last weekend.

      • Psy

        “Christianity did indeed adopt the pagan rituals of conquered peoples in an effort to help convert them.”

        Some claim the Jesus ‘died for our sins’ story was made up to get people to stop sacrificing their first born child and animals.

        • Mark Shea

          “Some claim” are words used to preface every crackpot claim on planet earth.

          • Psy


            I heard it from several Evangelical Christians back in the 1980s. Of course it might of just been their way of pacifying those who find it offensive that people glorify and celebrate crucifying someone to save themselves.

            • Mark Shea

              Can’t account for what Evangelical of your acquaintance may have said. But the reality is that there is simply no evidence for such a claim. The cross has been offensive from the start. Nothing new there.

              • Psy

                ” The cross has been offensive from the start.”

                I’ve also heard the cross is not a crucifix but an early cross staff sextant symbolizing navigating your way. I heard that one at flight school from another Christian, not sure what denomination.

                • Mark Shea

                  That Christians managed to apply the image of the cross in all sorts of metaphorical ways does not demonstrate in the slightest that the earliest Christians saw no significance to the death of Jesus on the cross. The gospels are aptly described as “passion narratives with long introductions”. It’s far closer to the mark to say it was only the crucifixion and death of Jesus that formed the initial proclamation of the early Christians, with the sayings of Jesus simply providing background and color commentary to fill in the story behind that headline.

        • The True Will

          Some claim that this claim is a load of dingoes’ kidneys

        • S. Murphy

          Didn’t say the article was defending Christianity. It does, however, point out that the Ishtar meme is really, really, stupid.

  • Psy

    Cain and Abel, Seth and Osiris.

    • SouthCoast

      Abbott and Costello. Mutt and Jeff. Cisco and Pancho…

      • Psy

        Adam and Eve, Geb and Nut.

        • Margaret

          Fred and Ginger.

          • Psy

            Ginger or Mary Ann?

      • The True Will

        “Camels and dromedaries, Clem.”

  • Benjamin

    I can’t believe they don’t know the basic fact that that Pagans would have found the very idea of physical resurrection revolting and vulgar.

    • Mark Shea

      Pagans are not a monolith. Some found it ridiculous, others did not. Enough of them did not that the Empire became Christian.

      • Rosemarie


        Many of the Greeks apparently did find it ridiculous; remember St. Paul at Athens? He seems to have had their attention till he mentioned the Resurrection, at which point some began to sneer. True, some of them did become Christian but I think the point still stands that the idea of a resurrection would have been unlikely to originate in the main form of paganism at that time and place.

        • Mark Shea

          Yep. Many educated pagans saw it as a return to the crudities of the rape of Europa by Zeus. “Greeks look for wisdom but we preach Christ crucified” was already proverbial in the NT.

          • Rosemarie


            The Incarnation or the Resurrection?

  • acilius

    “These same people, however, do not regard themselves as Moon worshippers merely because they say, “Today is Monday.”” They may not, but their predecessors, the Puritans, would have. That’s why the Quakers, that embodiment of the left wing of the Puritan movement, still sometimes call the days of the week “First Day,” “Second Day,” etc. In their refusal to mention the names of pagan gods, of course, they show the influence of a group the Puritans strongly admired, Orthodox Jews.

    Anyway, I’ve always wondered how much of a goddess Eostre really was. She’s always struck me as a pale personification of the etymological meaning of her name, “rising” or “origin.”

    • Rosemarie


      Add to that the fact that the earliest account we have of an alleged “Eostre” is found in the writings of the Venerable Bede, centuries after the British Isles became Christian. Even he says that her worship ended hundreds of years before her time. Our record of pre-Christian Germanic mythology contains no mention of a goddess Eostre. Granted, it’s probably an incomplete record, but these facts are enough to cause some scholars to question whether any pagans actually believed in such a divinity or whether Bede (or whoever his source was) was mistaken. If they did believe inher, she was probably a minor deity, not important enough to make it into the mythology. Or like you said, mainly a personification of nature or spring or the dawn.

      The English language actually has a word, “Pasch,” which refers to either Easter or Passover and is, of course, derived from Pascha. It’s archaic, though, barely used at all except in its adjective form, “Paschal.” Too bad that never caught on as the English name of the Feast of the Resurrection.

  • Ralph Ellis


    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)