The Christian celebration of Easter is in full swing as Spring emerges out of winter. But the traditions that are established as a Christian celebration don’t really represent Jesus’ teaching.
Where does the Easter message of rebirth come from? Is the resurrection story singular to Christianity? How does a bunny play into the prophet’s message? And why are eggs a central symbol of the celebration?
All that comes along with the Christian holiday cannot be traced back to Jesus himself. In fact, they can be traced to pagan roots.
What’s in a Name
Easter, Eostre, Ishtar According to Dr. Tony Nugent, teacher of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University, “the Easter story comes from the Sumerian legend of Damuzi (Tammuz) and his wife Inanna (Ishtar), an epic myth called “The Descent of Inanna” found inscribed on cuneiform clay tablets dating back to 2100 BC. When Tammuz dies, Ishtar is grief–stricken and follows him to the underworld.
In the underworld, she enters through seven gates, [where…] she is judged, killed, and then hung on display. In her absence, the earth loses its fertility, crops cease to grow and animals stop reproducing. Unless something is done, all life on earth will end.” In the pagan myth, Ishtar is resurrected and with her resurrection the earth is renewed (spring).”
Dr. Nugent points out that the story of Ishtar, “is just one of a number of accounts of dying and rising gods that represent the cycle of the seasons and the stars.”
The name, season, and myth of Easter come from the idols, Eostre, Mithras, Dionysus, and Horus, and others, who all shared similar crucifixion and resurrection stories to Ishtar and were all worshiped long before Jesus’ time.
Heather McDougall, a contributor for The Guardian, writes that “in the ancient world, wherever you had popular resurrected god myths, Christianity found lots of converts. So, eventually Christianity came to an accommodation with the pagan Spring festival.”
Whether or not early Christians derived the crucifixion story from pagan myth or not, the similarities are strikingly similar. However, Allah clears up the matter of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Quran:
And (as for) their saying, “We killed the Messiah, Isa son of Maryam, Messenger of Allah”, […] They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, but it was made to seem so to them. Those who argue about him are in doubt about it. They have no real knowledge of it, just conjecture. But they certainly did not kill him. Allah raised him up to Himself. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Quran 4:157-58)
The egg plays an interesting part in linking the celebration of Easter to pagan traditions. According to thespruce.com, “the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus all believed the world began with an enormous egg, thus the egg as a symbol of new life has been around for eons.”
Long before Christianity, eggs were symbols of new life and fertility. For this reason, many ancient cultures, including the Ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans used eggs during their spring festivals to celebrate their pagan gods.
It is from these pagan traditions that ascribe creation to the egg, and not the teaching of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) that today we see the egg as a prominent symbol of Easter. But Allah reminds us in the Quran:
Say, “Who provides for you from the heaven and the earth? Or who controls hearing and sight and who brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living and who arranges [every] matter?” They will say, ” Allah ,” so say, “Then will you not fear Him?” (Quran 10:31)
Another symbol of Easter that is not from Christian texts is that of the rabbit. The rabbit or bunny’s connection to the Easter celebration can be easily linked to the celebration of the Spring equinox and the pagan celebration of fertility during this time because of the rabbit’s rapid reproduction habits. But how do we come to have an Easter bunny laying eggs since rabbits are mammals and give live birth?
According to History.com, “the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.”
Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its eggs.
Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Additionally, children often left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping.”
After a close look at these myths one wonders why is the bunny associated with Jesus, rebirth, or the continuation of creation. It is Allah Who reminds us in the Quran that it is He who creates from nothing (Quran 36:82) and continues that creation from what He has created before (Quran 7:189).
In the light of all that is done in the name of Jesus and Easter that Jesus himself never endorsed or preached, we should take this as a reminder to examine the traditions we follow. Do we do them simply because it is done by the people around us? Or do we have a deeper understanding and a higher purpose for the traditions we keep?
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)