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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Easter History - part II

In part I of this series, we investigated Passover and how that ties in with the Lord’s Supper. We saw how Jesus ate the Passover Seder a day early, we saw there is no such thing as the Night To Be Much Observed, we saw that there are issues with any timing system that defines words too inflexibly, and we saw how people aren't really keeping the law they claim to be keeping after all.

In this installment, we will investigate how the Lord’s Supper ties in with Easter, and we will answer not a few questions that I hope clear things up about Easter and its supposedly pagan origins.


ORIGINAL NAMING OF EASTER

When Jesus and the Apostles ate the Last Supper early on the 14th, they used some new symbols that were a remembrance of Him. This broke the remembrance away from the Old Covenant Passover Seder, where Israel alone was saved from slavery and death, and pointed at our Savior, where all faithful through time are saved from slavery to sin and death. Even so, the name Passover remained.

In Hebrew and Aramaic the name is Pesach. In Greek and Latin the name is Pascha. 

When the New Testament was being formed, the name of the Last Supper was “Pascha.” Pascha is used 29 times in the New Testament. When the early church argued over timing, they argued over one and the same feast, which was Pascha. When we read the ancient histories, particularly by Eusebius who wrote about the Council of Nicea, the word he used was Pascha. When Constantine wrote letters to all Christians to inform them of the decisions of the Council of Nicea, the word he used for the Old Covenant Passover of the Jews and the New Covenant Passover of the Christians was the same, and that was Pascha. This is the name that was used for hundreds of years before English even became a language or the word Easter was ever uttered. To this very day the name of the feast throughout most of Christendom is Pascha (or some very similar derivative), as it always had been.

The Catholic Encyclopedia lists a great number of the Paschal names:
"The Greek term for Easter, pascha, has nothing in common with the verb paschein, "to suffer," although by the later symbolic writers it was connected with it; it is the Aramaic form of the Hebrew pesach (transitus, passover). The Greeks called Easter the pascha anastasimon; Good Friday the pascha staurosimon. The respective terms used by the Latins are Pascha resurrectionis and Pascha crucifixionis. In the Roman and Monastic Breviaries the feast bears the title Dominica Resurrectionis; in the Mozarabic Breviary, In Lætatione Diei Pasch Resurrectionis; in the Ambrosian Breviary, In Die Sancto Paschæ. The Romance languages have adopted the Hebrew-Greek term: Latin, Pascha; Italian, Pasqua; Spanish, Pascua; French, Pâques. Also some Celtic and Teutonic nations use it: Scottish, Pask; Dutch, Paschen; The correct word in Dutch is actually Pasen; Danish, Paaske; Swedish, Pask; even in the German provinces of the Lower Rhine the people call the feast Paisken not Ostern. The word is, principally in Spain and Italy, identified with the word "solemnity" and extended to other feasts, e.g. Sp., Pascua florida, Palm Sunday; Pascua de Pentecostes, Pentecost; Pascua de la Natividad, Christmas; Pascua de Epifania, Epiphany. In some parts of France also First Communion is called Pâques, whatever time of the year administered." 
-Holweck, Frederick. "Easter." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 19 Apr. 2010
Easter is an English word; and not by any means the original name of the feast. Passover is also an English word. Anyone who wants to make a huge deal about original names should remember that the name of the celebration isn’t Passover. The date falls in the Hebrew month of Nisan. Nisan is Babylonian. The Hebrews adopted it during the Exile. Prior to the exile, the month was named Abib. Guess what. That's pagan, too! It's Canaanite.
If names is your sticking point, then definitely you should avoid celebrating Passover on the 14th of Nissan.

So, the origin of the Easter celebration is indeed the Jewish Passover; particularly the Last Supper which Jesus ate with His Apostles. As the article above demonstrates, the celebration is still called Passover in all non-Germanic languages throughout Europe and west Asia. We can definitively conclude that the origin of Easter is not pagan as some claim, regardless of what it's called.

For the sake of avoiding confusion, from here on in I am going to refer to Easter as either Easter or Pascha. That will distinguish it from the Jewish Passover.


LENT AND TIMING

I would like to divert briefly into the origins of Lent, because this has so much to do with the timing of Easter as we see it today. You might disregard Lent. You might not understand Lent. But this is going to be a long section because of how important Lent is to our topic.

It was traditional even in the Apostle’s day to fast before Pascha. Technically, this is a holdover from an ancient Hebrew tradition where the first-born male would fast before Passover. This fast is called the Fast of the Firstborn. Only, when the Christians perpetuated it, they called it the Paschal fast. So, the Paschal fast, regardless of tales told on the Internet and in Adventist circles, is not of pagan origin either. It was adopted from the Jews.

Where does the name Lent come from, you ask? The Germans. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Lent says this:
"The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times.
-Thurston, Herbert. "Lent." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 15 Apr. 2023 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm> 
The English call it Lent because the Angles and Saxons are Germans, and English is a Germanic language. The German Christians changed the name in their own German way, the English inherited it, and here we are today. You will see this pattern repeating throughout this article.

Practices regarding the Lenten fast varied from region to region and town to town. Some people fasted only from certain kinds of food, some from all food, some from food and water; some for one day, some for a week, some for 40 hours, and some for 40 days. Fasts were fairly common in those days. Many cities fasted every Saturday. The Catholic and Orthodox churches still have traditions regarding fasting Sunday mornings until one receives Communion (Eg. see Catachism Part II, Section II, Chapter I, Article 3, VI, 1387).

In those early years, there was no set rule regarding observance of Lent. But they all agreed you should observe a fast before Pascha. Another thing they agreed on was that, eventually, you need to stop fasting. They just couldn't agree on when!

Now we need to take a quick look at the calendar system in Israel to understand some things about timing.

The Hebrew calendar system was a mess. The calendar used in Jerusalem was a complex piece of work to begin with, incorporating many postponements, observations, and cycles. To be quite honest with you, the term "Hebrew calendar" is misleading. Many people, like Colin Humphreys in his book "The Mystery of the Last Supper", claim there were at least two different "Hebrew" calendars (Eg. See "Qumran Calendar"). In fact, there were no less than three calendars used in Israel - not counting the Greek and Roman calendars. One of the primary reasons why the Essenes separated themselves was over the many postponements, observations, and cycles inherent in the calendar used at the Temple. The Essenes didn't like the Sanhedrin's calendar with its complexities. They devised a (frankly impressive) logical, mathematical calendar, and declared it God's true calendar, because God would never author such confusion that was the Sanhedrin's calendar.
So, whenever you hear someone tell you about "Hebrew calendar" or "God's calendar" or "God's sacred calendar", you now know there wasn't a singular Hebrew calendar.

After the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, and after the Jews were banished from Jerusalem because of the Bar Kochba revolt in 136 AD, calculating the timing of seasons, months, and days became even more difficult for the Rabbis. The Sanhedrin began closely guarding the means to calculate the calendar. In 359 AD, Rabbi Hillel II revamped the calculation of the calendar and included much more accurate calculation methods.
But by that time, however, the Christians had long since had enough.

Christians in Asia Minor followed the example of a Paschal fast ending on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. The people who insisted on the importance of the 14th of Nisan were called Quartodecimani (from the Latin word for 14).
Christians in the rest of the world followed the example of a Paschal fast ending on the Sunday after the 14th. 
Both sides claimed they were taught that by the Apostles. Now, it wasn't exactly an east/west split, because it was really Asia Minor versus the rest of the Empire, including Judea by the way, but let's just call it east/west here for the sake of simplicity.

Now, we need to be very clear about a few things ---
No one at that time ever doubted when Jesus ate the Last Supper. No one at that time ever doubted when Jesus was crucified. No one at that time ever doubted the day of His resurrection. And no one at that time abandoned the Nissan 14 timing.
That's right. No one did. Both sides tied their observances to Nissan 14. 
What they disagreed on was how long to fast and when to stop fasting for Lent to observe the Lord's Supper.
In the Asia Minor, doing as they said they were taught by the Apostles, they observed on Nissan 14. Everyone else, doing as they said they were taught by the Apostles, observed on the Sunday after Nissan 14.
Both sides said they were taught by the Apostles, and both sides timed their observance around Nissan 14. One group happened to observe on Nissan 14 whenever it fell, and the other group observed on a fixed Sunday after Nissan 14.

This is what we see in the historical record. Argue it all you want, but there it is.

How can both sides of the debate say they got their traditions from the Apostles? We aren't told. Please allow me hypothesize a moment.
[Begin speculation.]
In the East, there was a much higher concentration of Jewish converts to Christianity. You can see in Acts 21 the Jewish converts kept observing Old Covenant traditions as part of their national identity. So, chances are high there were several people observing on Nissan 14. In the West, on the other hand, they were primarily Gentile converts. While the Jews were allowed to keep their traditions, the Gentiles were taught no such thing. Refer to Acts 15 and 21. In fact, quite a lot of the New Testament is dedicated to why Gentiles do not need to be Jews in order to be Christians (see Galatians and Hebrews for more). The Gentiles were never taught they had to do anything on Nissan 14. Both groups were taught by the Apostles. Both groups fasted. Both groups approached it differently. Yet both groups timed their observances to Nissan 14 - one on the day, and one on the Sunday after.
[End speculation.]

There absolutely were not two different churches arguing over supremacy. That is an outright fabrication. There absolutely were not two different days being argued over. The disagreement was never over paganism in any way, shape, or form. Not a single one of them was arguing over whether to preserve the Old Covenant Passover. Not a single one!

Eusebius (who was there), clearly and without equivocation, shows us that the celebration people argued over is none other than the Last Supper, which is Passover. Eusebius says there was a:
“...diversity of judgment in regard to the time for celebrating one and the same feast...”
-Eusebius, Life of Constantine, book III, chapter V, in section “Of the Disagreement Respecting the Celebration of Easter”. [Emphasis mine.]
It specifically states it was one and the same Feast!

While Herbert Armstrong would invent two churches arguing over two days, Eusebius, who was there, says no such thing. 
I find it odd that the Armstrongists like to see themselves as descended from the Quartodecimani, but refuse to observe Lent, calling it pagan, when all of Christendom observed it and the Quartodecimen Controversy was mainly regarding it.

So, Easter is Pascha, Pascha is Easter, and neither Lent nor Easter are pagan.


WHAT ABOUT THE WORD "EASTER"?

Easter isn't Pascha because Easter comes from the pagan goddess Eostra, right? No.

Easter is an English word. It is taken from the Old English word “Eosturmonath.” English is a Germanic language. The Old High German word is "Ostermonath". Both are names of the fourth month (roughly April). This is (usually) the month when Easter starts.

Let's investigate this.

Armstrongists and Wiccans would make a great deal over the idea that “Eostre” is the name of a pagan goddess. But you should know something about that. The only source we have for the “Eostre was a pagan goddess” theory are the writings of a Catholic Benedictine monk named Bede (also called “the Venerable Bede”) in his work “De Temporum Ratione” (“The Reckoning of Time”) which he wrote in the early 700’s AD.
So, for all people who think Catholics are unreliable liars, your condemnation rests on Catholic writings. Keep that in mind.

Bede was a historian and was attempting to record the history of the Saxon peoples. Here is exactly what he wrote, translated into English of course:
"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."
When we actually read Bede’s own writings, as opposed to taking pseudo-historical Internet gossip on blind faith, we read that Eostremonath is the Saxon name of a month - the month of April. And it was the month that took its name from a goddess. Bede goes on to say that by his day any pagan customs relating to Eostre that might have existed had died out entirely, and the Paschal Month alone had replaced them. Old name for a new rite. And that’s really all he says about it.

So, Easter is named after a month, not a goddess. It's the month that is allegedly named after a long-lost goddess. Splitting hairs? I don't think so. Easter is not at all named directly after a pagan goddess or ritual. That makes a world of difference. Do you honor Julius Caesar on the 4th of July? Of course not! It's not Julius Caesar's day. The day is named after the month. But July is named after Julius Caesar. Does that transfer a worship of Caesar to Independence Day? No, it doesn't. See the difference?

If you've come hunting for paganism, you won't find it here. Bede is clear that all pagan customs had died out; replaced, not absorbed, by Pascha. Anyone who tries to tie paganism to Easter has to contradict Bede who tells us all traditions had died out and were replaced by Paschal traditions. To rely on Bede to make a claim in the first place, then completely ignore what Bede actually says, is not proper.

We know that Charlemagne, scourge of the German pagans, officially named the month of March "Lenzinmonath" (after Lent), and April “Ostarmanoth” around the year 800. (Any Encyclopedia or a thousand other sources will have info on this. See the WikiPedia article on the Julian Calendar under the section “Month names” for example.) That name remained until the 15th century. Unofficially, the name was used even until the 20th century, and might even still be used to this day by some people.
Charlemagne, who I called the scourge of Germanic paganism, gave the Germans a unified calendar and kept the old name of the month of April. Would Charlemagne do that if he was worried about pagan associations? No. By the year 800, the word was so entirely synonymous with Easter, even Charlemagne thought that was just what it meant. So long dead was any possible paganism that might have been there originally. Or, maybe, it never was named after a goddess in the first place.

There is yet another important detail you should be aware of.
The Germanic week days were named after gods and goddesses. This is completely undeniable, and we know of the gods that the days were named after. The months, on the other hand, were not named after gods and goddesses. They were named after meteorological or environmental events. It doesn't really make sense that Eostarmonath would come from a goddess. Eostre/Ostara, as we will see shortly, expresses movement toward the sun, to shine, and to dawn (as in, rising of the sun). In other words, east. And could have simply meant the month when things bloomed. In other words, Spring. It really could be just that simple!

What's more, when we look into the historical record, we find no goddess named Eostre anywhere. Bede apparently made it up, out of an innocent best-effort to explain the etymology. He did speculate about other deities in his book, after all. So it's not huge stretch that he would have done the same here. And if we think about it, Bede wrote in the early 700s. The Germanic peoples were first beginning to be introduced to Christianity in the late 300s. The Saxons later than that. That leaves less than 300 years for Eostre to completely disappear. No seriously entrenched belief is going to disappear in that amount of time. You name a month after her, but she's gone in two centuries? Makes a lot more sense if she wasn't there at all.

So um up, Easter gets its name from the month in which it falls. Pascha was renamed after the month because this is how Germans named holidays. English are Germans after all, so that's what they inherited.
It is unfortunate that certain Germanic languages including English have changed the name of the festival and certain people have latched onto that name in order to build a false case against it. To the detriment of all who love to condemn a billion+ Christians, the timing bears far more on the name than any goddess does.


WHO IS OSTARA?

Some people will wise up and realize, "Hey, wait a minute! Eostre is a Saxon word. We can't find a German goddess from a Saxon word." And that, dear reader, is a fantastic observation!

A little known truth is that Jakob Grimm, of the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales, factors into this. Don’t let the fairy tale connection sour you; the Grimm brothers were highly intelligent, well read, and thoroughly credentialed scholars!

Jakob Grimm wrote a book on German mythology which was first published in 1835 under the title “Deutsche Mythologie” (“Teutonic Mythology”) in which he investigated the origins of Eostre. Grimm comes to this realization that Eostre is not the right name. He says the right name should be something more like Ostara. The section on Ostara appears in Volume I, in chapter XIII section 7 which is titled “Hruoda (Hrede). Ostara (Eastre)”. Most of the information about Ostara comes in two paragraphs.
That's it. Two paragraphs.

Though I fear it will needlessly lengthen this study, I will print every relevant word that Jacob Grimm has written here for you to read in order that you may see how speculative it is for yourself:

"On the other hand, the Anglo-Saxon historian [Bede] tells us the names of two beings, whom he expressly calls ancient goddesses of his people, but of whose existence not a trace is left among other Germans. ... The two goddesses, whom Beda [Bede] (de temporum ratione cap. 13) cites very briefly, without any description, merely to explain the months named after them, are Hrede and Eastre, March taking its Saxon name from the first, and April from the second... It would be uncritical to saddle this father of the church, who everywhere keeps heathenism at a distance, and tells us less of it than he knows, with the invention of these goddesses."
-Grimm.[emphasis mine]  
Alternate link: http://www.northvegr.org/lore/grimmst/013_10.php
"We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and Ostarmanoth is found as early as Eginhart [an abbot who worked as a Secretary for Charlemagne]. The great christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of [Old High German] remains the name ostara; it is found mostly in the plural, because two days were kept at Easter. This Ostara, like the [Anglo Saxon] Eastre, must in the heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries. All the nations bordering on us have retained the Biblical 'pascha'; even Uliphilas writes paska, not austro, though he must have known the word; the Norse tongue also has imported its paskir, Swedish pask, Danish paaske. The [Old High German] adverb ostar expresses movement toward the rising sun [this info taken from Gylfaginning which is the first section of a 13th century Icelandic prose book called Edda or Prose Edda – [you will note the 13th century is far later than 700 AD], likewise the Old Norse austr, and probably an [Anglo Saxon] eastor and Gothic austr. In Latin the identical auster has been pushed round to the noonday quarter, the South. In the Edda a male being, a spirit of light, bears the name of austri, so a female one might have been called Austra; the High German and Saxon tribes seem on the contrary to have formed only an Ostara, Eastre (fem.), not Ostaro, Easra (masc.). And that may be the reason why the Norsemen said paskir and not austrur; they had never worshipped a goddess austra, or her cultus was already extinct.
"Ostara, Eastre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted to the resurrection-day of the christian's God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter, and according to a popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy. Water drawn on Easter morning is like that at Christmas, holy and healing; here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the roch and mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess." 
-Grimm. [emphasis mine] 
Alternate link: http://www.northvegr.org/lore/grimmst/013_11.php
And there you have it. Jakob Grimm says Eostre was the wrong name to begin with. Thus, the "Easter = goddess" theory is gone! Replaced by "Ostara = goddess". 

Since Grimm had no evidence for Ostara. These proposals by Jacob Grimm are not a hard fact. He even admits that he is speculating about something Bede gave no detail about, and “of whose existence not a trace is left among other Germans.”
And by the way, the "Hrede" goddess... no evidence there either.

To sum up - Eosturmonath was the Saxon name for the fourth month. It only exists because it comes from the German language. Ostarmanoth was the Old High German name for the month of April. Bede speculates a goddess Eostre. Grimm speculates since Bede did not translate his Saxon into German, maybe the name was Ostara. And at the end of it all, Eostre and Ostara, so far as we can tell, never existed. Neither did Hrede. And the month name could have just meant Spring.

All the "Easter is pagan!" talk is empty and devoid of substance.

That doesn’t stop people from constructing elaborate scenarios, however, and with that they boldly condemn billions. I find it no less ridiculous than claiming Australia was named after Ostara.


MORE PAGAN DEITIES

Still other, far more determined people claim that if we go back far enough, Ostara derives from Ishtar/Ashtoreth. There is even less evidence for this than the no evidence at all we saw a minute ago. All claims of this nature are purely speculative (even so, they are taught as fact.) If we can’t find proof for Eostre/Ostara, how on earth can we possibly have the proof that links her to Ishtar? The words sound alike, and that’s enough. But this is what we call “false cognates.” They sound the same but in reality are not related.

This is a dead end. A nothing-burger.

It doesn’t help that these claims probably come from Alexander Hislop, who we should all know was wholly unreliable. Certainly Jacob Grimm never intended his work to be so grossly misused.

We now must turn and fend off some claims that get dangerously close to blasphemy.

Some of the true zealots hate the actual history of Easter so much that they would undermine the Deity of Christ in order to smear Easter. In a stellar example of “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (after this therefore because of this) there are many people who claim Easter - and even Christ Himself - is simply a hold-over from the worship of the ancient gods Mithra and Attis.

According to Edwin M. Yamauchi, PhD. who holds a doctorate in Mediterranean Studies from Brandeis University, taught at Miami University in Ohio for 35+ years, wrote over 17 books including the 578-page "Persia and the Bible", and in 1978 delivered a paper to the Second International Congress of Mithraic Studies (I only list this info to show that the guy knows his Mithra), there is a very high probability that Herbert Armstrong is flat wrong on his pagan origin of Easter. HWA always attributed Easter to pagan gods, but let’s hear from an actual historian.

About Mithra:
"Western Mithraism didn't exist until the mid-second century [AD]... too late to have influenced the development of first-century Christianity."
-Edwin Yamauchi. P.169
Ibid.
“…even though Mithras was a Persian god who was attested as early as the fourteenth century BC, we have almost no evidence of Mithraism in the sense of a mystery religion in the West until very late – too late to have influenced the beginnings of Christianity.”
-Edwin Yamauchi. P. 168
Strobel, Lee. The Case for the Real Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987.
About Attis:
“… [Pierre] Lambrechts has demonstrated that the supposed ‘resurrection’ of Attis doesn’t appear until after AD 150 – more than a century after Jesus.”
-Edwin Yamauchi. P.177
Ibid.
 And about Adonis:
“Pierre Lambrechts  has shown that there are no indications of a resurrection in the early information we have about Adonis. While there are four texts that speak of his resurrection, they date from the second to the fourth century AD – long after Jesus.”
--Edwin Yamauchi. P.177
Ibid.
And about the common origin of all gods and goddesses which HWA often preached:
“Yes, there was a widespread view that there was a general, common mystery religion, but upon a closer examination of the sources, nobody believes that any longer.”
“These were quite different beliefs. In fact, by the mid-twentieth century, scholars had established that the sources used in these writings were far from satisfactory and the parallels were much too superficial.”
-Edwin Yamauchi. P.167
Ibid.
The fallacy that Mithra and Attis and Tammuz/Adonis and Ashtoreth/Ishtar are older than Easter, therefore Easter must come from them is what we call the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy; or “after this therefore because of this.” It's sloppy thinking. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Easter comes from Pascha, not paganism. And it would appear that paganism was far busier adopting Christian precepts in the decades after Christ than Christianity was busy adopting pagan precepts.


BUNNIES AND EGGS

So what of the Easter Bunny and these colorful eggs? Not a trace of them can be found in the Bible. They're obviously pagan, right?  Don't be so certain about that.

The idea of rabbits and eggs, although they are often found as fertility symbols in ancient religions, didn’t factor in to Pascha for a thousand years after Jesus died. Christians can make up traditions, too, you know. Just because it's new doesn't mean it's pagan.

About the eggs:

The tradition of Easter Eggs comes from the Lentin prohibition against eating eggs. Eggs could not be eaten during Lent, so they would be eaten up before Lent then stored up and eaten after Lent.

As for coloring the eggs, no one seems to know the ancient history. It is an old tradition. We can know this because both the East and the West have this tradition. It seems true the original color was red. But who started it and when? We don't know The decorating of eggs has many possible sources, some of which could perhaps come from pagan tradition.

The Orthodox say Mary Magdelene was the first to color eggs, which she colored red to symbolize Jesus' blood (I find that very unconvincing).
Some say it started with the Persian New Year celebration, “Nowruz” (but these ones never explain how it got to us). This is incredibly difficult to verify since I do not read Persian and cannot verify any reliable source material.
Some say it began with the Ukranians and the Pysanky egg (a forged poem tying the pysansky to paganism has been making the rounds on the Internet). 
Some say it started in Medieval England with the Pace egg (I find it interesting that pace eggs were wrapped in onion skin, and that the word Pace comes from Pascha). 
Some say it started with the Orthodox who died eggs red to symbolize Jesus’ death then cracked the egg to symbolize His resurrection (the Orthodox use symbolism quite a lot, so this is at least plausible). 
And some say it started with the ancient Chinese (again, no explanation on how that came to us).

Lastly we have the special group of people who just make up a story out of thin air and say it came from Nimrod and Semiramis. This all comes from one source - Alexander Hislop. Ignore that source. We have several articles on why Hislop is pure nonsense. I challenge you, dear reader, to bring me a single ancient document that can verify anything at all came from Nimrod and Semiramis, who lived hundreds of years apart from one another. I'll wait.

Though I am completely unable to verify for certain, I suppose it is plausible that the Orthodox Church adopted egg coloring from the Sarrasid Persians into the Byzantine Empire. That might explain why colored eggs seem so popular in Eastern Europe. It might also explain why both the Orthodox and Catholics have this tradition. If you are going to be eating a lot of eggs after Lent anyway, why not color them red and use them as a symbol of Jesus?

About the rabbits:

Yes, rabbits have been fertility symbols for millennia – they have been symbols for a great many things for millennia - but that is not prima fasciae evidence that Christians stole rabbits from the pagans. We simply do not know. But we do know the tradition is relatively recent and should not be misused to poison the entire Easter holiday.

Hares were very popular symbols among Christians in Medieval Europe, especially after the Crusades. Because people in the Middle Ages were generally ignorant about the life cycle of hares, they became symbols for a number of things. George Ferguson in his book “Signs and Symbols in Christian Art” p.20 sums a very long story up nicely as so:
“The hare, itself defenseless, is a symbol of men who put the hope of their salvation in the Christ and His Passion. It is also a well-known symbol of lust and fecundity. A white hare is sometimes placed at the feet of the Virgin Mary to indicate her triumph over lust.”
Yes, rabbits were used as a symbol by Christians. No, the presence of rabbits does not prove paganism. But we want to know about one rabbit in particular.

The trail of the Easter Bunny starts in Europe, most likely the Protestants in the Alsace region of Germany. Originally the animal was a hare, not a rabbit, and it was called “Ostern Hase” which translates to Easter Hare. The first mention comes from Georg Franck von Frankenau in his writing “De Ovis Paschalibus” [“On Easter Eggs”] in 1682. He said:
“In Alsace and the neighboring regions those eggs are called hare-eggs because of the myth that is told to make the simple-minded and children believe that the Easter Hare was laying and hiding them in the grass of the gardens, so the children search them even more eagerly, for the delectation of the smiling adults.”
In other words, the Germans were hiding Easter eggs for the kids to find. The kids asked where the eggs came from. The adults thought it would be good fun to say the hares were laying the eggs. The kids loved it! And that is the best explanation we have for the Easter Bunny.

The Easter Hare eventually became much like Santa Claus, bringing treats to good children and orphans. The Pennsylvania Dutch brought this tradition to the Americas, and it has developed here ever since.

Claims of rank paganism are simply overstating the facts. It could be quite as innocent as the tale related by Doctor von Frankenau. Since the Easter Bunny traces its roots to the 1600’s, then I find it quite anachronistic to smear the entire Easter festival on its account.

I would very much like to point out that in Christianity these rabbits and eggs are not objects of worship. They are not idols. No one bows before them, nor prays to them, nor puts their hope in them, nor considers them important to their faith or the worship of God in any way. No one sees them as fertility symbols. No one dedicates them to pagan goddesses. In fact, Armstrong had to spend a great deal of time and effort convincing people that these were fertility symbols in the first place in order to condemn them.

They are fun traditions for kids, and that’s all they are. To condemn a billion+ people over them seems a bit silly to me now that I have a better understanding of what Easter is. If they offend, leave them out! If they're sin to you, they're sin to you. They are nothing to the overall celebration of Jesus the Christ.

Let us now return to the topic of timing and investigate further some specific details..


AN EQUINOX FESTIVAL?

Some claim Easter is a celebration of the spring equinox, but this is false. Easter is not on the spring equinox; just like Christmas is not on the winter solstice. It can’t quite be a celebration of the equinox if it isn’t on the equinox!

Generally speaking, the 14th of Nisan is often closer to the Spring equinox than Easter is. So Easter moved away from the equinox. Part of Rabbi Hilel II's reason for changing the Jewish calendar was to make it easier to predict when the Paschal New Moon would fall before the Spring Equinox. The equinox is important, sure, but it isn't the focus.

The equinox was simply a reliable recurring guide for timing. Keep in mind, using the stellar bodies as timing devices is one of God's stated reasons for creating them as He did. So there's nothing at all wrong with it (GEN. 1: 14).

All of Christendom was of the opinion that Jewish reckoning of time was disruptive. So the Council of Nicea disregarded the Jewish calendar. They were wise enough to realize that calendars are messy things, so they wanted to pin the timing to something reliable. So, they pinned it to the equinox.

The rule since the 325 AD is: “Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox.” And that was chosen because the 14th of Nisan was impossible to determine with accuracy, yet it would keep the date near the 14th of Nisan.

You see, most people are blissfully unaware that, anciently, Passover was always on a full moon after the vernal equinox. Part of Rabbi Hillel II's reason for changing the Hebrew calendar in 359 was to make it easier to predict when the Paschal New Moon would fall before the Spring Equinox. The equinox always factored in. The Christians weren't inventing some new thing. All the Christians did was retain an old thing. Find that date, go up one Sunday and voila: Easter! Even if the Jews completely lost their ability to determine time, Easter would always be near the time when Jesus died because Jesus died on Nisan 14 which was always near the equinox.

Some may ask, "If that's true, then why isn't Passover always near Easter?" It was anciently, and still often is, but not always. Several calendars are involved now.

In the fourth century, a mere three decades after the date for Easter was set, the Jews under Rabi Hillel II changed the way the  Rabbinical Jews calculate their calendar. They now use a mathematical model to determine the calendar, and by extension the holy days which rely on the calendar. Unfortunately, if you rely on the modern Jews to provide the dating, you're still not observing the Holy Days as Jesus did. (I'm not knocking the Jews. They did what they had to do. I'm addressing people who judge and condemn people who observe Easter over timing that they themselves get wrong.)

Not only that, but when the Council of Nicea was held and the timing of Easter established by the Bishops there, they were all under the Julian Calendar. Since that calendar was found to be flawed, Pope Gregory XIII declared a new and much more accurate calendar should be created. The West has been using that calendar since 1582. As an interesting bit of trivia, the Greek Orthodox Church still ties their reckoning of Pascha to the Julian calendar, hence the Catholic and Orthodox Easters are often on different weeks.

Some claim the Easter sunrise service is derived from the ancient pagan practice of welcoming the sun on the morning of the spring equinox, but this is false. As I said, Easter isn't on the equinox. We have ancient Christian documents as well as a Roman record from Pliny the Younger (c. 112 AD) showing Christians held sunrise services precisely because that is what they received from the Apostles and read in the Gospels about the timing of Jesus’ resurrection. Notice that 112 AD is over 200 years before the Council of Nicea.

Were there brand new Christian converts from paganism who were worshipping the sun on Easter? Yes! But that isn't until after Christianity had become legalized in the late 300s and converts came piling in all in a bunch. This is well after the Council of Nicea. How did the church handle this sun worship? They didn't get irate about it, because these were fresh converts, but they didn't just tolerate it, either. These people were corrected. The practice was stopped.


SOME FINAL ISSUES

Here is a good place to cover some final straggling issues.
  • COGs Get Timing Wrong, Too
If timing is so crucial to salvation, as Armstrongism teaches, let’s spend a minute on that and see if they get timing right.

We saw in the first part of this series that HWA’s timing of Passover is wrong, there is a bitter ongoing dispute over the correct timing of Passover if it is the 14th or the 15th, and the Night to Be Much Observed is more or less a made-up thing. So their timing isn’t any better than anyone else’s.
But did you know that for 40 years Herbert Armstrong (supposedly an Apostle taught directly by God) taught Pentecost falls on Monday. According to this reasoning, everyone who lived and died observing the wrong date/time were terrible sinners awaiting condemnation.
RedFox of Living Armstrongism, in the post “What Was WCG Before 1970 Like?” adds this:
“Around 1948-9 a controversy erupted in RCG. It has been described as traumatic. Anyone who disagreed with HWA's Monday Pentecost was cast out of the church, only to learn 25 years later that they were right.”
In Armstrongism, to be cast out of the church means eternal death. One cannot overstate the gravity of convicting people of an offense worthy of eternal death… only to completely about face. In 1974, Pentecost was changed to Sunday. Incidentally, this change in dating caused a huge split in the church and prompted Raymond Cole to establish the Church of God the Eternal. To this day they observe Pentecost on Monday, citing as authority HWA’s claims that God revealed the truth to him at the beginning. Both cannot be right.

Timing issues appear in other areas as well. The Church of the Great God calculates Pentecost differently in years when the First Day of Unleavened Bread falls on a weekly Sabbath. Hidden in this Pentecost conflict is a debate on when the Wave Sheaf offering occurred (LEV. 23: 11-15), and thus a dispute over the timing of Jesus' resurrection.

So why all of this confusion over such a “plain truth” as timing? If it’s so vital for salvation, why can’t even the people who say they are doing it right seem to get it right?

It’s because timing isn’t as important as they say!

What really matters is Jesus.

(I COR. 11: 25) …This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.

And what matters is what’s in your heart.

(I COR. 11: 27-31) 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.

What would you suppose is in the heart of a person who would condemn another person over the timing of something which they themselves get wrong? My guess is it’s probably not the stuff that is pleasing to Christ. Good thing there’s still time to change the heart!
  • Easter Isn't Commanded
I’ve been told, "You can't refute the fact that the Bible does not teach the observance of Christmas and Easter."
Oh, but I can!

Jesus’ birth is very much in the Bible. Whether we call it “Christmas” or not, and regardless of what day was eventually settled on for the festival, the birth of Christ is very real, and besides His death and resurrection there has been no other day in the history of mankind that compares to the day on which He was born. We get into Christmas in other articles.
But Pascha, on the other hand, it unambiguously teaches. If we can get past these childish disputes over names and timing, we would see this plainly.

The Bible doesn't teach the observance of Thanksgiving for that matter - yet there people are keeping it. The Bible doesn't teach the observance of Hanukkah either - yet there Jesus is keeping it (JON. 10: 22). So what are we to say? Seems to me like these arguments are grasping at straws.

For another great article on Christian liberty in holidays, read our article Established and Imposed.
  • Copy Jesus
I’ve been told, “I only want to do what Jesus did.”

Then you can't refute the fact that Jesus kept Hanukkah (and the other Jewish festivals like Purim). So why don't you do those? This argument falls apart when we find the people who put such a high value on only doing what Jesus did are not actually doing what Jesus did.

Need I remind anyone that Jesus changed the timing of Pascha? He ate His Supper on the 14th when the Bible and the Jews clearly says the Passover Seder is on the 15th. Why then are a billion+ Christians, who fully trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, condemned as pagans for changing the timing out of necessity just as Jesus Himself did?

Right now, someone out there is saying, "But Jesus was just restoring the correct timing of Passover, which had erred over the years." To which I reply, then why was Pentecost on the exact same day? Pentecost is tied to Passover, so it should have been a day earlier, too. But it wasn't.

I’ll bet “doing what Jesus did” suddenly became a lot less important for some people who claim that’s all they want to do.
  • Word Games
What do we see throughout this article? Word games! It all boils down to word games.

This theoretical goddess nobody can seem to find bears no more influence on the name of Easter than Saturn’s Day has on the seventh-day Sabbath. Calling the Sabbath “Saturday” doesn’t make anyone any more a pagan than calling Pascha “Easter.” For all of the people who make such a huge fuss over something so simple as a name, don’t they know “Pentecost” is Hellenistic Greek word, and the real name of the day is Sukkot? Using this same line of thinking with which they condemn a billion+ Christians, aren’t they also a pagan for keeping Pentecost? The Hellenistic Greeks were pagans! (I hope you understand I'm being facetious.)

Herbert Armstrong was well known for playing word games. He once claimed Mussolini was called “Il Duce” because “duce” is the Anglo-Saxon word for “demon.” When in reality, it is the Latin word for “commander,” and from this same word we get the English word “Duke.”

I once attended a seminar where author Steven Collins said the Biblical Javan is the modern nation of Japan. Why? Because they sound alike! But Javan isn't Japan, it's Italy.

I used to play the same word games myself... until I stopped being afraid of the truth.

For anyone wanting more information about this, we recommend you read the following links on the subject. They are quite informative:

Is Easter Pagan? - YouTube video by Jimmy Akin
Where did Easter come from?
Eostre and Easter Customs (Yes, I am aware this is a pagan website. I put it here for balance.)
The Origin Easter - Pagan or Christian? (see p.2)
Is Easter a Pagan Festival?


CONCLUSION

Easter is Pascha. Pascha is Easter.
Easter is an English word that comes from the Saxon name for the month of April. It does not come from the name of a goddess.
Easter is not pagan in origin, but began as a matter of desiring a reliable, set timing for the Lord’s Supper and the end of the Lenten fast that went with it - that doesn’t rely on the Jews to determine the timing.
Eggs were traditions among the Orthodox since who knows when and weren't introduced in the Latin west perhaps until after 1,000 A.D. They don’t even factor in. Even if they were pagan fertility symbols to remote cultures, we have no evidence these things came from the Germans, or that they were adopted into Christianity from pagans. They could have been innocent Spring symbols.
Armstrongists shouldn’t condemn seasonal symbols. A great many times I have seen cornucopias and other harmless items set out on tables as a symbol of harvest. The Bible is full of symbols. The bread and the wine are symbols. There is nothing inherently wrong with symbols.

In the end of it all, it’s up to your faith and your relationship with God.
If your faith prefers to keep Passover with a church like the COG7 who invites all baptized Christians to their Lord’s Supper on the 14th of Nisan, then God bless you and I pray your observance is Spirit-filled and enriching. Hebrew converts in the early church did it, so there’s nothing wrong with it.
If your faith prefers to follow the western Gentile tradition and attend an Easter Sunday service – with or without rabbits and eggs – then God bless you and I pray your observance is Spirit-filled and enriching. The early Gentiles did it, Polycarp and Anicetus lived side-by-side through it, that’s how Christians have done it for 1,900 years, so there’s nothing wrong with it.

Just remember Jesus the Christ, and keep Him in your heart to purify it. Condemnation is not an option – towards yourself or others.

So, whichever way your faith in God leads you to worship Him, I pray He purifies your heart and blesses you. I pray He leads to see that condemnation isn’t proper. Who would demand the law, yet ignore the many commands against condemnation? And I pray He leads you to further study on this topic, and a deeper understanding of the New Covenant in His blood.

15 comments:

xHWA said...

I am just going to go ahead an state right now that I am not Catholic.

I know there are a lot of people who won't read what I write because they feel I am defending the Harlot of Revelation. Ummmmmm.... how about no, I'm not.

I am not Catholic. I disagree with the Catholics on certain areas that I will keep to myself. What I do not do is condemn any Catholics. Not any more! I'm done with all that judgment and condemnation. If they are wrong, they are wrong. If they are right, they are right. I'll point out the right, and leave the wrong to Jesus the Judge of us all.

xHWA said...

And I would definitely like to thank Luc for all of his help on these posts. They may have my name on them, but this was definitely a collaborative effort.

*whew*! It's finally complete!!

Luc said...

I'm of the opinion that Those who accuse the Catholic church of being the great whore and the Pope of being the Antichrist owe them an apology, that includes me.

I, like most OWCG kids, was taught that the Catholic church was the house of Satan. At a foster home I lived in when I was nine, the people were Catholic, and my brother and I refused to kneel when everyone else did. The people poked us in the back, and out of fear I did it. My brother refused. I lived with the guilt for decades thereafter because I thought I failed God and bowed to a pagan idle. Utter nonsense and paranoia.

I'm not sure it matters much about the exact timing of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection. What is important to me in this study is to illuminate where the views of the churches came from, and that they came from the bible, and are not the result of gross negligence of scholarship as we had been taught.

To reconcile with the Body of Christ is important. We are certainly all wrong in something; the same way that children are wrong in how they may view their parents. People don't reject their children because they don't understand everything about them, and neither does God. We all know who our Lord is. He will correct the errors in due time. Right now, to heal the gulf between us is important and needed.

April 20, 2010 9:32 AM
Delete

xHWA said...

Doggone it Luc, you have a nack for saying things I agree with. VERY well said.

Chalk that up as another reason I love writing here at ABD.

xHWA said...

Some kind of stupid on Blogspot today. Checked out the site this morning, and there was a second copy of this post. It came from a draft I put up days ago that disappeared on me and I thought was gone forever. I guess it wasn't so gone after all.
Hopefully it's gone now!

xHWA said...

I was reading online last night about a lady who refuses to read this post. She won't read Bede or Grimm either. She says they're wrong.

What does she do instead? Condemns Catholics.

And THAT, my friends, is a person who claims to have the truth.

Unknown said...

How does she know they're wrong if she won't read them?

xHWA said...

I had to make a change in this post in the section where I quoted Jacob Grimm.

It appears Google changed the online book that I had linked to. Of course they took out the pages I needed. So I went and found an alternate link.

I left the original there because..... who knows. I just did. That's all.

Dillon said...

X, I can't see part 1 anywhere. By the way is there any credibility to the NIV or ESV Bible? A lot of friends of mine state that the only Bible for English speakers is KJV only. Should Christians use the ESV or should they only use the Authorized version? Thanks. God Bless.

xHWA said...

Fabulous! Neither can I.
I'll work on getting it fixed.

Thanks for letting me know.

xHWA said...

There is credibility in the NIV and the ESV. It's not like they're so wrong as to be useless. But they do have issues that people should be aware of.

They NIV is not a direct translation. It relies on the interpretations of the translators much more than the KJV did. The translators aren't slouches, though. That said, I will go so far as to say that I do not recomment using the NIV as study Bibles.
But as study aids, it is perfectly fine. It can help people to get a better understanding of what a text means.

I use the ESV all the time. Many people I know use it. I prefer the ESV and the NKJV as my study Bibles.

I do not buy in to the KJV-only idea. The KJV has its own set of issues. It is not a flawless translation. Also, the English in the KJV is so antiquated it's difficult to read. Sometimes even counter-productive, since wrong notions can be picked up from this translation if a body isn't careful in how they study. Some truly disturbed people use the KJV on purpose because it is the easiest to twist. (If people don't have their hearts in the right place, no translation is going to resolve that.)

In the end, I recommend the New King James and the ESV, in combination with an Interlinnear Bible, and the assistence of a trusted commentary or two. And LOTS of prayer.

Anonymous said...

What about the idea that we can't get three days from Friday to Sunday? I have heard of a “sunrise” service in the book of Ezekiel where the children of Israel turned their backs on the True God. God did not like the sun worship of the Israelite, isn't that a reason why we should avoid Easter? Another reason is that you cannot get three days and three nights from Friday to Sunday. I have heard a lot of claims that Lent was a forty day period of weeping for Tammuz but when we celebrate two days, instead of three days and three nights then how is that true worship? How would we be worshiping God in spirit and in truth? Didn't God say that we must be able to explain ourselves to others about what we believe? The days of the week are pagan but we don’t try to incorporate them into our worship practices. In Deuteronomy God said you will not add nor take away from my worship and you must not worship the Lord your God in that way for in doing so they do detestable things that the Lord hates. I want to make an informed choice before I start condemning people. TY for your time. God’s blessings.

xHWA said...

We can get three days from Friday to Sunday if we account for two things.

First, "three days and three nights" is a known Jewish idiom in use in that area at that time. It did not mean exactly three days and three nights. Hence the reason why "on the third day" is used more often. We go over this in the series.
Second, Justin Martyr who wrote not 100 years after the Apostles was quite specific that the time was Friday to Sunday. My point is, we can speculate a lot of scenarios, but this one at least has historical backing.

Don't confuse a sunrise service with sun worship. The only reason the service was anciently at sunrise is because that is Biblically when Jesus was first found resurrected. Recall in the Gospels it was very early.

I need to say something about chain of evidence. That God says something in Deuteronomy is important, but it doesn't prove anything about the origins of Easter Sunday. The reasons why the day was chosen are known. They were recorded, and we go over them in the series. We can hunt the world over and find anything we'd like on a Sunday and say "aha!" but that doesn't mean what we've found has anything at all to do with Easter. We need to prove a relation.

Lent is not a 40 day period because of any pagan holiday. Lent comes from Jewish tradition. Eusebius makes that clear when he writes about the history of what we commonly call the "Quartodecimen Controversy". Besides Tammuz was worshiped during the month of Tammuz - hence the name - and that is the fourth month (Passover is the first month, so Lent was nowhere near the fourth month). Whatever website you read needs to correct their claims.

Just as a note about the days of the week, they aren't "pagan" in the religious sense. They got their names from astrology rather than religion. There was no ancient Roman worship day set on any particular day of the week, Saturday, Sunday or otherwise. Ancient Rome didn't operate that way.

You're welcome, and God's blessings in your continuing studies.

Paul said...

Beautiful stuff here. This is the best article I have read on the subject. This extra ordinary.

Thank you very much!

xHWA said...

Thank you Paul.