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According to the Richard Dawkins Foundation:

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  1. Was Ishtar's symbols anything similar to the bunny and the egg?
  2. Was Easter named after Ishtar?
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4 Answers 4

up vote 46 down vote accepted

No, Easter is derived from Eōstre, who was a Germanic divinity, a goddess of the dawn. The word is related to other dawn goddesses, but not to Ishtar, who is goddess of fertility and war. This is backed up by The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1971, Vol. 1, pg. 827:

Besides the lions on her gate, her symbol is an eight-pointed star. (see Black, Jeremy and Green, Anthony (1992). Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. ISBN 0-292-70794-0 pp. 156, 169–170)

You might also like this refutation of the meme.

See also this question on the English Language site.

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A small caveat: could Eostre be derived from Ishtar? Ishtar precedes Eostre iirc... –  Sklivvz Apr 21 at 19:52
@Sklivvz No, it's covered in the links. That's what I meant when I said the word is related to other godesses, but not to Ishtar, who is a different goddess and in a completely different part of the world. –  DJClayworth Apr 21 at 20:25
The part that DJClayworth mentioned is here (from this link): "I immediately knew that this was a bit of nonsense for the simple reason that Easter is an English word. The Greeks and Romans called it Pascha, which is why Easter is Pasqua in Italian, Pascua in Spanish, and Paques in French. How exactly did the name of a Canaanite fertility goddess skip all the way to England from the Middle East without stopping in Rome or Byzantium?" –  Twilight Sparkle Apr 24 at 15:45

Here is the entry from the Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition June 2011:

Etymology: Cognate with Old Dutch ōster- (in ōstermānōth April, lit. ‘Easter-month’), Old Saxon ōstar- (in ōstarfrisking paschal lamb; Middle Low German ōsteren , ōstern , plural), Old High German ōstara (usually in plural ōstarūn ; Middle High German ōster (usually in plural ōstern ), German Ostern , singular and (now chiefly regional) plural), probably < the same Germanic base as east adv. (and hence ultimately cognate with Sanskrit uṣas , Avestan ušah- , ancient Greek (Ionic and Epic) ἠώς , (Attic) ἕως , classical Latin aurōra , all in sense ‘dawn’). For alternative (and less likely) etymologies see the references cited below. It is noteworthy that among the Germanic languages the word (as the name for Easter) is restricted to English and German; in other Germanic languages, as indeed in most European languages, the usual word for Easter is derived from the corresponding word for the Jewish Passover; compare pasch n.

Bede ( De Temporum Ratione 15. 9: see quot. below) derives the word < Eostre (a Northumbrian spelling; also Eastre in a variant reading), according to him, the name of a goddess whose festival was celebrated by the pagan Anglo-Saxons around the time of the vernal equinox (presumably in origin a goddess of the dawn, as the name is to be derived from the same Germanic base as east adv.: see above). This explanation is not confirmed by any other source, and the goddess has been suspected by some scholars to be an invention of Bede's. However, it seems unlikely that Bede would have invented a fictitious pagan festival in order to account for a Christian one. For further discussion and alternative derivations see D. H. Green Lang. & Hist. Early Germanic World (1998) 351–3, J. Udolph & K. Schäferdieck in J. Hoops's Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde (ed. 2, 2003) XXII. 331–8, and for a parallel development compare yule n.

Also note that the easterly direction is associated with the resurrection from early Christianity because the sun rise is a symbol of new life. Churches were built facing east, and people were buried facing east, anticipating the resurrection.

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Here is a detailed answer to the second question from a blog by a King James Bible apologist.

One view is that Easter was in fact the name of the Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess of spring and that Herod was waiting till after this pagan holiday was over before he was going to have Peter killed. There are however many serious problems with this view. Number one is the fact that the pagan goddess was named Eoestre or Eastre or some say Ishtar or Astarte (all different gods and goddesses), but the name is not Easter.

If the King James Bible had read: "intending after Ishtar" or "intending after Eoestre", they might have a case for their argument. But it clearly does not read that way. It says: "intending after EASTER to bring him forth to the people."

Let's look at it from the Greek side of things. The Greek word used here is clearly πάσχα or paska. There is NO way on God's green earth that the Greek word πάσχα can possibly mean anything remotely like "Eoestre" or "Ishtar". The King James Bible translators were not morons. They knew exactly what this word means and it means EASTER, particularly when it applies to the yearly celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is what they wrote. The second major problem with this view is that Herod was an Edomite and probably a Roman citizen, but by no stretch of the imagination was he an Anglo-Saxon.

The term Anglo-Saxon designates the population in Britain partly descended from the Germanic tribes who migrated from Europe and settled the south and east of the island beginning in the early 5th century, and the period after their initial settlement through their creation of the English nation up to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon era denotes the period of English history between about 550 and 1066. The term can be used for the language, also known as Old English, that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons in England (and parts of south-eastern Scotland) between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century, after which it is known as Middle English.

So it would be more than a little difficult to have a Roman/Edomite king in the first century celebrating an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess who was never acknowledged among the Romans and in fact did not even exist until some 4 to 5 centuries later. About the only thing the term Easter and the Anglo-Saxon Eoestre could possibly have in common is that they are both derived from the Middle English word "east" meaning simply the East. Aside from that, it's a theory totally devoid of and contrary to all known historical facts.

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So people have a right to come in and change what I post? Now, How do people know what I said and what the editor said by just looking at the post the way it is? –  user144668 Apr 22 at 1:51
The issue here is that the King James version translates the word in Acts 12 as "Easter" when that is really the 17th century Anglicization of the word. The correct word is "Passover", which we know because the Jews in Acts (especially Herod) didn't celebrate Easter, which is a festival of the resurrection of Jesus. So the entire passage is completely irrelevant to the naming of Easter. –  DJClayworth Apr 22 at 1:54
Oddthinking is actually helping you by reformatting. You should be courteous to him. –  DJClayworth Apr 22 at 1:55
@user144668 You are a new user of StackExchange, so it is excusable you don't know some of the rules. 1. There is no "yours" content here - each question and answer can be edited to improve it for the community benefit. Who did the edits is visible under the post (and the whole edit history can be seen if you click on "edited n hours ago"). I only see Oddthinking changing the format for better readability, no content seems to be removed. 2. On Skeptics you need to provide evidence for every claim you do. Just saying "obviously" isn't enough. –  sashkello Apr 22 at 4:04
A "King James Bible Apologist" doesn't really count as an unbiased source, and what few sources he seems to cite (the original article is literally painful to read) have a distinct echo-chamber noise to them. Also, christianity has a long history of appropriating other religions' symbols and then insisting they were always christian, occasionally after setting fire to anyone claiming to remember differently. King James insisting he didn't nab the name from something phonetically identical is kind of weak. –  Shadur Apr 22 at 8:57

Actually, Easter and the Easter-egg came from the Egyptian Isis.

In Egyptian Isis was called Ast or Est, from which we derive Ester or Easter (referring to a star or the heavens). And remember that Isis-Est was a fertility goddess, as much as she was the Queen of Heaven.

And the Easter-egg came from the spelling, because Est was spelt with the easter-egg glyph. So yes, there are associations with fertility in the symbology of Est (Isis). Oh, and Ishtar (Isht-ar) came from the Egyptian Est (Isis), and not the other way around.


See: Ralph Ellis, Cleopatra to Christ

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This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

Please add sources for your claims –  Ilya Melamed Apr 25 at 19:23
Welcome to Skeptics! That's not a terribly reliable reference. –  Oddthinking Apr 26 at 0:25
That's an utterly terrible source. –  DJClayworth Apr 27 at 5:34

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