Bad History: For the Love of God, Easter does not come from Ishtar

Easter is truly a holiday with something for everyone.

For Christians Easter is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection on the third day, and our resurrection from a Good Friday induced food coma.

For non-Christians Easter means waiting in joyful hope for chocolate and jellybeans to go on sale Tuesday morning.

For that annoying guy in your philosophy class, Easter means it’s time to post the Ishtar/Easter meme, and feel superior to all the simple sheeple on his friends list.

Fig. 1. If there were any more jpeg in this photo it would be made from slices of American Cheese

“Take that Christianity! Easter is about porking!” the guy from your Philosophy class brays obnoxiously, as if Christianity was personified by an uptight University Dean from a 1980’s college sex-romp. Dean Christianity gasps so melodramatically his monocle falls out of his eye into his glass of scotch. He rushes out of his office to try and stop the sex parade that’s being staged to Twist and Shout, but no one can stop that guy from your Philosophy class. He’s just too powerful.

But as Dean Christianity’s agnostic administrative assistant, I’m here to say, this meme is a avalanche of historical inaccuracy. Let’s start from the top:

This is Ishtar

But also, no it’s not. The image used in the meme is the Burney Relief, and it’s subject matter is still debated.

Fig. 2. The jury is still out as to why Burney Relief isn’t a slogan for Polysporin Burn Ointment.

It’s possible that the Burney Relief depicts Ishtar. It’s also possible that it’s:

  • Lilitu — A winged sky demon of the night.
  • Innana (Ishtar)— The goddess of sex, fertility, war, and sacred prostitutes.
  • Ereshkigal — Innana’s (what’s my name) Soap Opera style evil twin, queen of the dead, overlord of the Underworld.

So technically, there is a 33% chance that this is a depiction of Ishtar. There is also a 66% chance it is not. That’s like saying you saw Dermot Mulroney at a Lakers game, but it also might have been Dylan McDermott, but it also might have been some very dashing homeless man.

Fig. 3. That “dashing homeless man” may or may not be David Schwimmer.

Regardless, good work meme maker. Finding the first photo of Ishtar on Google Images proves you put in the legwork to make your meme masterpiece. If you really wanted to drive home this was actually Ishtar, you could have used the illustration from say, a piece of art that actually bears her name. Maybe like…the Ishtar Vase. But they ended up going with the Burney Relief for obvious, boob-related reasons.

Fig. 4. The Ishtar Vase (Clay, 2000 BCE, The Louvre Collection) was a wellspring trapperkeeper drawings everywhere

Pronounced “Easter”

No, actually it’s pronounced exactly how it looks. Wikipedia says /ˈɪʃtɑːr/ , which, as an acrostic poem would look like:

I — as in “bid”
SH — as in “shy”
T — as in “tie”
A — as in “father”
R — as in “rye”

Unless you have a very thick Eastern European accent and a lisp, there is no reason why anyone would pronounce Ishtar as Easter.

Easter was originally a celebration of Ishtar

Except no it wasn’t. If you want to trace the roots of Easter, you’ll find in based on Jewish Passover (Pesach) the celebration of the holy spirit protecting the first born children of the Hebrews during the final plague in the book of Genesis’ Exodus story.

Fig. 5. This is my body, try it with some fava beans Chianti.

Christians connect Easter to Passover because Jesus himself celebrated the Last Supper on Passover. You know, the last supper? Where he said some heavily metaphoric things about drinking blood and eating flesh that lead to some early Christians being accused by their Roman contemporaries of being secret Cannibals.

Now that’s some crazy history that I don’t even have to make up.

Anyway, the Passover is why Easter’s name is derivative of the Hebrew Pesach in like a whole truckload of languages:

  • Latin — Pascha or Festa Paschalia
  • Greek — Paskha
  • Bulgarian — Paskha
  • Danish — Paaske
  • Dutch — Pasen
  • Finnish — Pääsiäinen
  • French — Pâques
  • Indonesian — Paskah
  • Irish — Cáisc
  • Italian — Pasqua

[Stops to gasp so hard for breath that my monocle falls into my scotch, just like Dean Christianity]

  • Lower Rhine German — Paisken
  • Norwegian — Påske
  • Portuguese — Páscoa
  • Romanian — Pasti
  • Russian — Paskha
  • Scottish Gaelic — Càisg
  • Spanish — Pascua
  • Swedish — Påsk
  • Welsh — Pasg

It only appears as “Easter” in Anglo-Saxon derived languages of English and German. Derived from a celebration of the goddess of Springtime Eostre or Ostara, her celebration was called Eostur-Monath or Eostre Month. These civilizations had thousands of miles and years between them, so it’s borderline impossible for their festival to be to the same God.

It couldn’t be that humans are programmed with a collective unconscious that craves similar stories about rebirth that coincide with the rebirth of the flora and fauna. No, it’s definitely Ishtar, a meme told me so.

Assyrian and Babylonian Goddess of Fertility and Sex

Take it to the hoop meme! This is your first factual slam dunk!

Fig. 6. It’s simultaneously a slamma jamma and a complete stretch!

It’s true that Ishtar was the goddess of fertility and sex. A little heavier on the sex. And by that I mean a lot heavier on the sex. She symbolizes fertility the same way a pregnant stripper symbolizes fertility. Her holy city Uruk, is known as the “town of sacred courtesans”, which roughly translates to city of religiously sanctioned prostitutes. Heck, historian Thorkild Jacobsen even postulated that the Burney Relief originally the house altar of a bordello.

Her Symbols (Like the Egg and the Bunny) Were and still are Fertility and Sex Symbols

Yes, the symbols of bunnies and eggs are fertility symbols.

But, no, those symbols were never associated with Ishtar. Her symbols included: lions, gates, and an eight pointed star. To say that eggs and bunnies were attributed to this frankly, quite kickass, Assyrian/Babylonian goddess is kind of insulting. Take a look at this fantastic contribution to art/architectural history that is the Ishtar Gates.

Fig. 7. This recreation of the gate using actual tiles is #Flawless and is preserved at the Pergamon museum in Berlin.

(Or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the Resurrection)

You probably shouldn’t condescend if most, if not all, of your facts are wrong.

After Constantine Decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was Changed to Represent Jesus.

No, Easter wasn’t changed to represent Jesus.

But there is a kernel of truth that several popular Roman holidays shared similarities to Christian holidays and replaced pagan ones. Saturnalia was a festival celebrating Saturn that took place during the winter solstice in which social roles would be reversed and everyone would give each other gifts. The magnanimous spirit meshed well with the narrative of Jesus’s birth, and the popular holiday being adapted into Christmas was an important step in popularizing Christianity.

Fig. 8. Attis: Phrygian/Roman Jesus figure, star of Hilaria, no relation to Hilary Clinton.

Or maybe you were thinking of Hilaria, a Roman festival surrounding Attis, a virgin born hero who dies on a Friday and is risen on the Vernal Equinox every year. In early Christianity Pagans and Christians actually fought about who’s traditions were right on the Palatine Hill. That’s how close they were. And that’s how much this meme maker was willing to ignore facts. There was a pagan holiday closer to Easter that they could’ve complained about, but instead made up something completely false.

Seriously, why not just make a stupid meme about Attis?

But at its Roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about Celebrating Fertility and Sex

But at its roots, this dank meme (pronounced may-may) is all about celebrating smug superiority of intellect, without boasting any intellect to fact check.

Some Stray Thoughts

Look it’s not bad to be skeptical. It’s not bad to look into the history of traditions. I think it’s really fascinating to see how traditions have developed over the course of civilization.

Fig. 9. Now That’s What I Call Critical Thinking! Vol. 10.

But when something as historically inaccurate as this is shared by one of the world’s most renowned skeptics, who had millions of followers and claims to be the voice of “reason” that’s when it starts to pickle my butt.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (Official) facebook page posted this on March 27th, 2013, and since then it’s received over 77 thousand likes, 220 thousand shares, and over 8 thousand comments.

Yes that Richard Dawkins, who’s page ethos is “to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of our natural world”. By uncritically sharing a 100% fictitious account of the origins of Easter.

Good stuff internet. Never change! Have a great summer!

In Conclusion

If you see something, say something: Friends don’t let friends share bad history.

So correct people. And they still insist on sharing this, threaten to spoil the most recent superhero movie, because they clearly don’t care about the specifics in their hero’s journey narratives.

Fig 10. Night Jesus v. Day Jesus: Dawn of Metaphors.

Comedian and Filmmaker. Should not have sold her soul for those pogs. Ramblings @thehomelybaby

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