The Legends of Easter

It was only the 9th hour of a Friday, on the 14th day of Nisan, the first of Jewish month. The night was young, and everybody present was in eager anticipation. Something imminent was about to happen. Everything that surrounded Gol’go-tha was silent, except, for the gasping breaths of three men—disrobed. The one in the middle was draped with a scarlet cloak, crowned with thorns, before finally impaled. All three were impaled.

If you are familiar with the story, you would know that the two men were robbers. In their midst was Jesus Christ. –Matthew 27:27-33. Having lived for 33 years in more than two thousand years earlier in our history, there could be no other man as controversial and as interesting as Jesus Christ. Like the details of his birth, Christ’s death was equally characterized by doubts, veneration & disputation, and besmirched with politics.Each year since 325 A.D., Christians celebrated the Easter on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the spring equinox, as was decreed by Emperor Constantine I, the first Roman Christian emperor. Many Christians across the world today carry such tradition with the belief that Easter was about resurrection. But really, what is the meaning of Easter and how is the name derived? A brief look into its history can prove enlightening.

Pagan Roots

Bede the Venerable, the 8th century English historian and monk says that Easter or Ēostre in old English and Ôstarâ in Old High German has its roots in Teutonic tribe or Germanic people. During their time, the Teutons celebrated the festival of Ôstarâ, an Anglo-Saxon Goddess of spring and sunrise. Ôstarâ was named after the direction of sunrise. At the time when Bede wrote his De Temporum Ratione, the peoples had long stopped celebrating the festival.

The worship of deities and practices of human sacrifices were common to Paganism, from which Easter has been deeply rooted. The worship of Sun as God, for instance, can be dated back to ancient times, in myths like King Nimrod.

King Nimrod is said to have betrayed his great-grandfather Noah, left his Noah’s protection, become a tyrannical ruler and went on to build the famous Tower of Babel.

His wife, Queen Semiramis, who was later Hellenized as Sammur-amat, deified him as the Sun-God and was known as Ba’al, or Beel-ze-bub to the Philistines. When Semiramis had an illegitimate son, Damu, or Tammuz in Hebrew or Dammuzi in Babylonian language or Adonisin Greek, a rift between the couple started.When Nimrod threatened to overthrow her, Semiramis plotted Nimrod’s slaughter during the annual celebration of New Year festival, which was to commemorate Nimrod’s advent of rulership. Each year at that time, a-year-old ram was to be sacrificed and eaten raw. For that particular event nevertheless, it was Nimrod who was handed over to the priests for slaughter. Before the festival began, the priests, who performed the ceremonial sacrifice, were under the heavy influence of hallucinogenic drugs. Of course, the infant Damu was then introduced to the worshippers as Nimrod, reborn. And because there was a promise of a savior of mankind at that time, the ancient peoples gladly obliged. Soon, the peoples deified Semiramis herself, who was worshipped as the goddess of fertility, named Ēostre.It was said that the worship of Ēostre was instituted by Semiramis herself during the uproarious festival of the return of spring known as vernal equinox, when day and night had an equal length, following the death of Damu, who was killed by a wild boar. According to the legends or myth, Tammuz was resurrected into new vegetation when Semiramis’s tears fell onto his cheek. Among the highlights of that festival were the presence of emblem such as the Easter bunny due to its prolific nature. In other cultures, the goddess of fertility was known as Ishtar, Ashtar, and of course, Easter. In addition, beautifully adorned eggs were included as an emblem of re-birth when Germans had their own Ôstarâ to worship.Jewish & Christian Roots And Constantine IIn the Jewish calendar, in the month of Nisan in the Lunar year, the Jews celebrated the Passover to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from 300 years of slavery in Egypt. When it was told that Jesus Christ died from propitiatory crucifixion in 30 A.D. as described at the onset, it happened during the Jewish Passover. His resurrection was celebrated during the Sunday of Pascha or the Christian Passover.These separate celebrations were respectively carried through until Emperor Constantine the Great, after his successful invasion of the Teutons, embraced the festival of Ēostre  into Christian beliefs to convert the Teutons to Christian. It was espoused, in particular, into the Christian Passover and named it the Festival of Easter, thereby, allowing Pagans to celebrate vernal equinox within Christian doctrines. Included in the Easter are the eggs & rabbit emblems, as well as the traditional ceremonies. The early Christians, many of whom were raised in Jewish tradition saw Easter as the new feature of Sunday of Pascha.

Doubtless, there was a dispute between the Eastern and Western churches about the exact date that Easter should be celebrated. The Easterners wanted the festival to fall on a weekday because Passover was celebrated on the 14th of Nisan each year. The Westerners, on the other hand, insisted that it should fall always on a Sunday irrespective of the date.

In 325 A.D, the Council of Nicaea was called with the date of the Easter as among the agenda. It was decided by the council that Easter should fall on Sunday, after the first full moon, following the vernal equinox. Nonetheless, it was at the time of Alexandrians, who were known for their apt in astronomical calculations, when March 21 was chosen as the perfect date for spring equinox.

Today however,  Easter is movable between March 21 and April 25 as the Churches in the West celebrate it on the first day of the full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox. Meanwhile, the churches in the East adopted the Passover festival, which takes off as early as the Ash Wednesday—the time when penitence begins or also known as holy week among Catholics—and ends on the Easter Sunday, Jesus Christ’s resurrection. The Philippines is no different when citizens observe the holy week–it concludes on an Easter Sunday.


3 thoughts on “The Legends of Easter

  1. I won’t be surprised if our Christian friends esp. Co… cough.. cough.. starts to react on this post.. Like Christmas, Easter too is so sacred to the Christians..

  2. Bacchus, Krishna, Osiris, Tammuz, etc are also death-rebirth gods. Eoster is woven from the same story and from the cognitive ties people have of the sun/harvest time. The resurrection of Jesus is no different.

  3. Very interesting, indeed! The resurrection/rebirth themes complement Carl Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious on which all religions seem based.

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