You may have heard of Asherah poles or Baal in the Bible. You may have heard that Easter has some pagan roots. But you may not have heard that Easter has connections with Asherah (Ishtar). Or at least, some people think so.
Ishtar, a Semitic goddess of love and war, who played a huge role in the Babylonian pantheon—in fact when Daniel and the other captives marched into Babylon, they would’ve seen the Ishtar Gate, a structure dedicated to this goddess—has similar name roots to the word Easter. And even if Ishtar and Easter have nothing to do with one another, some people like to say that another pagan deity, Eostre, has something to do with the holiday.
In this article, we’ll explore Ishtar and what role she plays in the Bible, whether Easter has anything to do with this pagan deity, and if Easter has any pagan roots at all. Let’s dive in!
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Who Was Ishtar in the Bible?
Ishtar, otherwise known as Asherah in the Bible, plays a huge role in pagan pantheons and also ends up swaying Israel to follow after pagan practices during the time of the kings. Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about her.
Jeremiah 7:18: “The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.”
The “queen of heaven” here represents Ishtar. The Israelites turned away from Yahweh and pour out libations to this false goddess, a typical practice in pagan cultures.
1 Kings 18:26: “And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.”
According to mythology, Ishtar gives birth to Baal, a god who has a bad rap sheet in Israel’s history. Israel often offered sacrifices to Baal, and a prophet had a showdown with the prophets of Baal in the above passage.
Judges 2:13: “They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.”
Even before the time of the kings, the Israelites serve Baal and Ishtar. A frequent motif in the Old Testament happens where they forget the Lord, worship foreign gods, and reap the consequences (often getting taken captive or taken over by a foreign nation).
In any case, any time Ishtar shows up in the Bible, it means trouble. God obviously does not approve of Ishtar worship. So did this foreign deity find its way into the heart of the most important holiday in the Christian calendar? Or do their names show a resemblance just by mere chance?
Is Easter Named after Ishtar?
In short, no. The names do share a similar resemblance, but not overly so. Where we run into an issue is with Eostre, but we’ll explore that in the next section. According to CARM, although Easter and Ishtar share name similarities, and symbols of fertility, the roots of Easter’s name more likely to stem from Eostre.
However, we do have to consider that Easter does often have Easter eggs. And many sculptures of Ishtar, from archeological excavations, have shown the goddess to be covered in eggs, a symbol of fertility. Beyond that, the two don’t share many similarities, and we can only point to correlation, not causation here. Nothing seems to indicate direct ties between these two through history, legend, or excavation. But now we ought to uncover Eostre and its similarities to Ishtar and Easter.
What Is the Difference between Ishtar, Easter, and Eostre?
Now that we’ve established the differences between Easter and Ishtar, we need to unmask the third similar word (and deity), Eostre. Let’s establish some definitions of these three and go from there.
Ishtar: A Semitic pagan goddess, who had a particular influence over the Babylonians as well as other foreign nations. She gave “birth” to Baal, another stumbling block for Israel, and represented love, war, and fertility.
Easter: A holiday on the Christian calendar celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We have records of the first Easter celebrations happening in the 2nd century AD.
Eostre: According to this Crosswalk article, “Eostre has been associated with fertility, spring, flowers, many elements in which we associate with Easter and the season after a barren winter.” Eostre is where we get the Easter bunny. She existed in Anglo-Saxon lore but may have some ties to Ishtar. Upon analyzing many pantheons, you’ll find many similar gods. For instance, the Romans stole all the Greek gods and slapped different names on them.
Easter and Eostre share names, egg traditions, and the idea of the Easter bunny. So where do the pagan traditions end and Christianity begin?
Is Easter a Pagan Holiday?
Yes and no. It depends on which historian you ask. The church often has a confusing history of scheduling holidays around the same time as other pagan holidays as a sort of seeker-friendly outreach program into the pagan community (examples: Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Halloween). And because these changes happened so many millennia ago, with very little documentation, we have to operate off of conjecture.
We cannot ignore some of the pagan influences on Easter. Eggs tend to have a fertility symbol throughout history. So when we hide candy in them or dip them in the dye, we don’t exactly Christian-i-fy them.
Plus the Easter bunny has un-doubted similarities to that of the likeness of Eostre. And by deduction, Ishtar, if gods truly do morph and adapt to the cultures they find themselves in next. After all, the Babylonians didn’t survive forever. However, fertility goddesses did. Persians (Anahita), Greeks (Aphrodite), Romans (Venus), Norse (Freya), and the Anglo-Saxons (Eostra or Eostre), all had a type of deity like this who took on the form of a woman. Perhaps Ishtar really did become Eostre, or at least, some mutation of it.
However, just because a holiday has some pagan influences doesn’t mean a Christian cannot redeem some of those elements. For instance, we see churches offering Trunk-or-Treat events during Halloween or Reformation Day dress-up events.
In the case of Easter, we do witness the same thing happening. People can put symbols of Easter within Easter eggs such as the purple cloth Jesus wore during his trial (Luke 23:11).
We also see iterations in things such as the jellybean prayer. We can use the candies found within Easter eggs to share the Gospel with young children, similar to the Wordless picture book.
In the case of all holidays in the Christian calendar, we should make ourselves aware of origins and possible influences. But we can also find ways to redeem elements of them. Many Christians choose, also, not to participate in Easter egg hunts or anything Easter bunny-related.
Whether a believer chooses to engage in Easter activities or not, we should make sure to respect one another’s decisions. Like the early church, perhaps we could use Easter egg hunts as an outreach to our community. But we should also follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and if our convictions tell us to avoid participating in festivities, we should do so.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/SvitlanaMartyn
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,200 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.
This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!
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