Being an atheist, I don’t celebrate Easter.
This doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the root of such things, in much the same way as words and their meanings fascinate me, and I find it especially interesting when a biblical story is closely linked with something that came from a entirely different culture, and a totally different period in history, it always amuses me when religion can’t get it’s story straight.
And what about the Easter bunny?
And Easter eggs?
Where does all that come in?
I don’t remember (and correct me if I’m wrong) a flock of Disney-style bunnies helping to roll away a stone shaped like a giant hot cross bun, to revive the sacred star of the show with a nice soft boiled egg and some soldiers.
So imagine my delight when I was confronted by one of those generic, captioned pictures on Facebook, claiming that Easter was in fact based on the similarly pronounced Ishtar.
This was more like it.
A festival centred on the cult of a demented courtesan – a sort of church-appointed prostitute – whose status as Sumerian goddess of fertility, sex, love, and war would have made for a much wilder Easter Sunday gathering.
The symbology of the rabbit and egg makes perfect sense, given her responsibility for rebirth and fertility, and the rabbit’s reputation for being at it like, well, rabbits all the time.
Ishtar – Didn’t get the memo about the Easter party dress code.
Appearing to lend even more credibility to the connection is the fact that one of the targets for Ishtar’s affections was, according to ancient texts, legendary Mesopotamian superhero Gilgamesh, whose mythology runs in parallel to many of the biblical stories, including Noah’s flood.
(Interestingly, eighteen centuries before Christ, Gilgamesh was a contemporary of Enkidu – the “Mesopotamian Adam”, created by their top god, Anu, from clay.)
But even he found Ishtar too high maintenance, rejecting the advances of the ancient world’s champion bunny-boiler, saying;
“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured Lilac-breasted Roller , but still you struck and broke his wing […] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong […] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks.”
Fair enough, I would steer clear of her too.
Gilgamesh – “Leave it mate, she’s not worth it”
She wasn’t happy with this, stomping back to her dad, chief godfella, Anu, and demanding he give her the Bull of Heaven or else she’d open the gates of hell to turn the kingdom into a scene from The Walking Dead.
For the sake if a quiet life, he gave in, only for her to set the bull on Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who promptly killed it.
A woman scorned, never gonna end well.
But sadly, I had to put my Easter orgy on hold as, with the very minimum of research, I discovered that none of these connections were in fact, factual.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is real enough, and you can read it here should you so wish, and Ishtar’s part in that story isn’t in question.
It’s the connection to Easter that is nonsense.
The only non-Christian root of Easter, in English anyway, is the 8th century Saxon pagan goddess, Éostre, whose name in translation means April in old high-German.
And that’s only according to proto-journo, St (the Venerable) Bede.
Oi! Remember me? No? Anyone?
Nobody else seems to have noticed this quirk of language, and by the time even Bede wrote about it, the tradition of the Éostre festival had died out, replaced by the now familiar Christian resurrection myth.
All of which is a bit of a disappointment, as it would have made an interesting, informative, and educational blog post.
Oh well, never mind. I’ll think of something else to write about…