Does Easter have anything to do with Ishtar? (self.AskHistorians)


15 ups - 3 downs = 12 votes

There is a facebook meme going round that says Easter is derived from Ishtar (link) - there is also an /r/AskHistorians thread (link) that talks about the a germanic origin. Is there any truth to the meme and who is right?

5 comments submitted at 01:39:44 on Mar 29, 2013 by bigshmoo

  • [-]
  • rosemary85
  • 15 Points
  • 02:42:16, 29 March

There is no evidence to link Easter to Ishtar.

In the thread you linked, Flubb's post is the most important one to read. I feel s/he should not have been so certain in rejecting Bede's testimony: it's true that we have no other evidence to confirm his testimony regarding a goddess named Eostre (a Northumbrian spelling for Eastre), but absence of corroboration isn't enough, in my view, to be quite so confident about rejecting him. The OED comments on the unlikelihood "that Bede would have invented a fictitious pagan festival in order to account for a Christian one". There's reason to be cautious about Bede's testimony: that much is certainly true.

Beyond Bede, everything dissolves into conjecture. The Kluge s.v. Ostern points out that there's nothing conclusive to rule out direct derivation from the Greek dawn goddess Eōs, and links the word to albae "whites" for the colour worn during Eastertide, and adduces a French use of albae to mean "morning light", thereby linking it to "east"; but it's very contorted. It also reports on another attempt to link Easter/Ostern to baptism (for which Easter is the traditional time), via the Old Norse phrase ausa vatni "doused with water".

TL;DR: we don't know where the word comes from. Any explanation is going to have to deal with Bede's derivation in some way, though. Anyway, there's definitely nothing to connect it to Ishtar.

  • [-]
  • Flubb
  • 3 Points
  • 11:43:59, 29 March

The question of Bede's ability to accurately record things is a noted issue in Bede-ic studies (short answer: he doesn't always). He has a tendency (as Ron Hutton pointed out) to make his own interpretations about things.

It could very well be that there is a goddess Eostre somewhere, but with no external corroboration, it's legitimate to disallow a goddess-interpretation (based on his aforementioned inaccuracy) until something else turns up. This isn't to reject it completely, but to understand that it's the sole piece of evidence for Eostre so far :)

  • [-]
  • [deleted]
  • 4 Points
  • 16:36:21, 29 March

I've seen this floating around and it baffles me. Why would people just make shit up? There's no link at all between Easter and Ishtar, there's no reason to think her name would have ever been pronounced that way (although the pronunciation is superficially similar), and eggs and rabbits are not her symbols. Lions like the ones on the eponymous gate, an eight-pointed star for the planet Venus, and a twisted-reed doorway were common icons for her.

  • [-]
  • peace_suffer
  • 1 Points
  • 13:04:55, 31 March

Welllllllllll now I feel like a twat. I passed this along to someone verbally, after doing a VERY superficial google search. Yep... I'm a twat.

  • [-]
  • [deleted]
  • 1 Points
  • 17:12:19, 31 March

Well the idea that Easter is derived from 'pagan' sources is at least probably true.