Easter—In the Hebrew Bible?

Passover, certainly. But what about the peculiar Easter traditions—bunnies, painted eggs, hot cross buns? Several passages in the Hebrew Bible contain remarkable descriptions of what appear to be Easter practices. But how could this be possible, several centuries before the birth of Christianity?
Easter postcard painting by Arthur Thiele (1919)
Public Domain

What if I told you that there is no mention of Easter in the New Testament? And conversely, that Easter traditions are mentioned in the Old Testament—the Hebrew Bible—and that it even describes Israelites celebrating Easter many centuries before Christianity?

Have you ever wondered where the many peculiar Easter traditions came from? What do painted eggs, bunnies and hot cross buns have to do with Jesus? Why is the crucifixion marked on “Good Friday” and the resurrection on “Easter Sunday,” less than two full days and nights later—when Jesus said that he would be buried for “three days and three nights”?

Christmas and Easter are two of the most widely celebrated holidays on the Christian calendar. Yet as we examined in December regarding Christmas, there is no mention of Easter in the New Testament, but some strikingly apt descriptions in the Hebrew Bible.

Where, then, did these Easter traditions come from? As it turns out, the Hebrew Bible says a lot on the subject.

Silence in the New Testament

But wait, Easter is mentioned in the New Testament: Acts 12:4. This is the only verse in the New Testament that uses the word “Easter.” And you’ll only find it if you are using a King James Bible. That’s because it is a flagrant mistranslation; the Greek word is pascha, “Passover,” used as such throughout the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint Old Testament. Other New Testament translations use “Passover” instead. Of this verse, Adam Clarke, author of the renowned Clarke’s Commentary, wrote: “Perhaps there never was a more unhappy, not to say absurd, translation than that in our text.”

Regarding Easter, the Catholic Encyclopedia writes that “the apostolic fathers do not mention it.” The Encyclopedia Britannica states: “There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. … The first Christians continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though in a new spirit, as commemorations of events which those festivals had foreshadowed” (11th edition).

It may come as a surprise to learn that the earliest Christians kept the Passover dates according to instructions given in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 23); they also continued to keep the other festivals mentioned in this passage, including Shavuot (Pentecost), Yom Kippur (Atonement), Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), and even the weekly Sabbath—more on this further down.

Today, very few in the Christian world celebrate the same festivals that Jesus or the apostles observed. Instead, celebrating the birth (Christmas) and resurrection (Easter) of Jesus are by far the two most popular traditions in Christianity. Yet ironically, neither are commanded, much less suggested, in the New Testament. What Jesus did command his disciples to commemorate was his Passover death (i.e. Luke 22:19). As the fifth-century c.e. Christian historian Socrates Scholasticus wrote of Easter: “The Savior and his apostles have enjoined us by no law to keep this feast … the feast of Easter came to be observed in each place according to the individual peculiarities of the peoples inasmuch as none of the apostles legislated on the matter. And that the observance originated not by legislation, but as a custom, the facts themselves indicate.”

So where, then, did these “customs” come from?

Easter shop window, Co. Clare, Ireland
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It’s All in the Name

Let’s start with the most obvious question: Where did the name Easter come from? The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “The English term [Easter] relates to Estre, a Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and spring … Anglo-Saxon, easter, eastron; Old High German, ostra, ostrara, ostrarun; German, Ostern.”

The connection of the name Easter with the pagan Germanic goddess Eōstre is fairly well known. In the seventh century c.e., the English monk St. Bede the Venerable wrote: “Eostur-monath has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month,’ and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance” (emphasis added throughout).

The goddess Eōstre, accompanied by birds and a flying hare, is looked on by Germanic worshipers below (Johannes Gehrts, 1884).
Public Domain

Of the same, Jacob Grimm wrote in his 1835 Deutsche Mythologie: “We Germans to this day call April ostermonat, and ôstarmânoth is found as early as Eginhart [the eighth-century secretary of Charlemagne]. The great Christian festival, which usually falls in April or the end of March, bears in the oldest of ohg remains the name ôstarâ. … This Ostarâ, like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted that the Christian teachers tolerated the name and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.”

Little material detail is known about this goddess. Her name etymologically is connected to the word east, thus pointing to a connection with the rising sun and also pointing to her nature as a “spring” or “dawn” goddess, one who would retreat to the underworld in the winter and emerge in the spring.

Her worship is also connected to birds and hares.

Of Eggs and Bunnies

For the early European pagans, eggs and hares or rabbits were important symbols. According to Edward Davies’ The Mythology and Rites of the British Druids, the egg was the sacred emblem of the druidic order.

Grimm continues: “The heathen Easter had much in common with May-feast and the reception of spring. … [T]hrough long ages there seem to have lingered among the people Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to tolerate: I allude especially to the custom of Easter eggs, and to the Easter tale which preachers told from the pulpit for the people’s amusement, connecting it with Christian reminiscences.”

Tradition holds that the goddess Eōstre turned a bird into a hare, which continued to have the ability to lay eggs, and would do so at Easter time. The goddess was “attended” by this hare, sometimes even depicted as flying in various artwork (as above). This association with the spring goddess was important, as hares and rabbits reproduce rapidly, befitting a symbol of fertility.

A Pantheon of Goddesses

In the 1950s, inscriptions were discovered pointing to the early existence of a related form of this goddess. These inscriptions (circa c.e. 150) referenced Proto-Germanic “mother goddesses” under the etymologically related name “Austriahenae.” The style of the inscriptions parallels that of Roman imperial armies, though not much more is known.

The Greek dawn goddess Eos (de Morgan, 1895)
Public Domain

But Eōstre and her worship can be traced back further, much further, to the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. Eōstre is a development of the Greek spring goddess and “goddess of the dawn,” Eos. Both names are derived from the Proto-Indo-European etymological root and “primal” dawn goddess, Hausos. It is from this root that we get not only the Greek Eos, Baltic Aushtra and later Germanic Eōstre in the West, but also the Vedic dawn goddess Ushas in the East.

In such manner, names and traditions are carried throughout history from this early center of human civilization—the Mediterranean and Middle East. Study of the Germanic and Norse pantheons of gods and goddesses show close resemblance and derivation from the pantheons worshiped and transmitted across Italy, Greece, Egypt, the Levant and Mesopotamia. These pantheons generally do not generate in a vacuum, but are derivative of earlier gods and goddesses.

One of the most famous goddesses of the biblical-era Levant, worshiped by the Phoenicians, Canaanites and Israelites, bore a similar name: Astarte. She was also chief goddess of the Babylonians and Assyrians, who called her Ishtar. This goddess was likewise a “dawn” goddess, due to her mythological association with the “dawn” star, the planet Venus (and yes, the goddess Venus was the Roman equivalent). The Greeks worshiped her as the famous goddess Aphrodite (a goddess that scholars likewise trace back to the Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess, Hausos). The Egyptian equivalent was Isis.

Hausos, Ushas, Isis, Ishtar, Aushtra, Astarte, Eástre, Eostre: the similarities in name are immediately apparent. But even more remarkable are the similarities in worship practices.

A Sumerian seal depicts the winged goddess Ishtar, Venus symbol, and a worshiper (circa 2200 B.C.E.).
Sailko

Back to Eggs and Bunnies

According to the first-century c.e. scholar Hyginus, this goddess is described as hatching from an egg. “Into the Euphrates River an egg of wonderful size is said to have fallen, which the fish rolled to the bank. Doves sat on it, and when it was heated, it hatched out Venus, who was later called the Syrian goddess [Astarte] …” (Fabulae).

In an Egyptian version of events, Isis is called the “egg of the goose,” and her son, Horus, is also said to have emerged from a broken egg.

The “world egg” or “cosmic egg” is regarded as one of the most widespread symbols in pagan mysticism, found in ancient cultures from the Middle East all the way to the Pacific. James Bonwick writes: “The mystic egg of Babylon, hatching the Venus Ishtar, fell from heaven to the Euphrates. Dyed eggs were sacred Easter offerings in Egypt, as they are still in China and Europe …” (Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought).

Egyptian hare deity in the coffin of Bakenmut, 10th century B.C.E.
The British Museum

The hare was likewise a fertility symbol of the Roman Venus, and the Greek Aphrodite was accompanied by one—again, thanks to its high reproductive rate. To this end, in ancient Greece, the live animals were sometimes presented as gifts. As for the Egyptians: The consort of Isis’s son Horus was the hare-goddess Wenut, depicted in Egyptian art with the head and shoulders of a hare.

‘Queen of Heaven’

This goddess—the Roman Venus, Levantine Astarte, Mesopotamian Ishtar and (in the earliest traceable form of all) the Sumerian Inanna—was worshiped in her respective countries by another specific name: “Queen of Heaven.”

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For those familiar with Christianity, that might come as a surprising title—because from the fourth century c.e. onward, that became the title for Mary, mother of Jesus (perhaps there is an “Our Lady, Queen of Heaven” church not far from where you live). This name cannot be found anywhere in the New Testament, but it is in the Hebrew Bible.

“Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke Me” (Jeremiah 7:17-18). Here, the prophet condemns the Israelites for turning to pagan worship, making “cakes” for Ishtar-Astarte, the “queen of heaven.”

Hot cross buns
Jemasmith

To this day, one of the most ubiquitous Easter traditions is the baking of bread-cakes, or “hot cross buns.” The Encyclopedia Britannica states: “These cakes, which are now solely associated with the Christian Good Friday, are traceable to the remotest period of pagan history. Cakes were offered by ancient Egyptians to their moon-goddess …. The Greeks offered such sacred cakes to Astarte [Aphrodite] and other divinities. … In time the Greeks marked these cakes with a cross, possibly an allusion to the four quarters of the moon, or more probably to facilitate the distribution of the sacred bread which was eaten by the worshipers.”

Mothering Sunday cake
James Petts from London, England

The emphasis on cakes and the mother’s role in this worship (also related in Jeremiah 44) connects even more specifically with a certain traditional event held just prior to Easter: “Mothering Sunday,” a day in which cakes are again made (such as the traditional Simnel Cake, left, decorated with eggs) in honor of the “great mother” Mary, “queen of heaven.”

Alongside the cakes, another worship tradition mentioned in this very same verse is the kindling and burning of fires in honor of Astarte. This too is another famous Easter tradition: the burning of large “Easter fires” (as below)—something that, as with the cakes, cannot be found anywhere in the New Testament relating to Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

A record-attempt for the largest Easter fire (Espelo, Netherlands)
Jürgen Eissink

This same verse in Jeremiah also mentions the tradition of “pour[ing] out drink offerings.” Another Easter tradition is the pouring out of wine upon graves.

The paschal candle
Lawrence OP

This same refrain is repeated in Jeremiah 44: Just following the destruction of Jerusalem, a heated discussion took place between Jeremiah and the Jewish refugees, who refused to give up their traditions including making “cakes” for the “queen of heaven” (see verses 15-30). Besides the cakes, fires and drink offerings, another element is mentioned: “burn[ing] incense to the queen of heaven” (verses 18-19; King James Version). And this parallels another Easter tradition—lighting incense, or especially a large incense candle known as a “paschal candle,” embedded with incense grains.

Queen of heaven, cakes, fires, drink offerings, burning incense, a worship emphasis on mothers—none of which can be found in the New Testament relating to the crucifixion and resurrection, but all of which can be found contained in these short verses. Is it just coincidence?

The “women” element also connects another fascinating bit of the Easter puzzle.

Weeping Women

The farthest back that we can trace worship of this goddess Astarte, “Queen of Heaven,” is to the third-millennium b.c.e. Sumerians. Sumer (the biblical Shinar) is described by archaeologists and historians as the “first civilization”—fitting remarkably well with the post-Flood account in Genesis 11:1-2. The Sumerians named their goddess Inanna. (Sumerian literature actually describes her “migrating” to Sumer from Anatolia—the core location of the Proto-Hausos-Eos goddess—and also fitting with a peculiar early biblical account.)

Alongside Inanna, “queen of heaven” was her consort Dumuzi, sun-god and god of agriculture, symbolized by the evergreen tree (something that we covered in our article on Christmas trees—again, a religious item nowhere mentioned in the New Testament). Put simply, central to Inanna and Dumuzi worship was the seasons—the “death” of Dumuzi in the winter, Inanna’s grief and weeping for him, and the “rebirth” of Dumuzi in spring.

Sumerian cylinder seal impression depicting a crouching Inanna under the Huluppu tree and star, receiving her reborn ruler.
MyGodPictures.com

As with the spring celebrations of his tree “rebirth,” Inanna’s weeping for the death of Dumuzi was marked through the ages by womenfolk of different regions and respective religions. The Assyrians and Babylonians replicated these traditions under the names of Ishtar and her son Tammuz; the Phoenicians, Syrians and Canaanites under the names Astarte and son Tammuz; the Egyptians under Isis, Osiris and son Horus; the Greeks under Myrrha-Aphrodite and Adonis (also Eos and Cephalus); the Romans and Phyrgians under Cybele/Nana and Attis.

A fifth-century B.C.E. vase depicts women mourning Adonis (the Greek Tammuz equivalent).
Public Domain

At the core is a general repeating theme: A “queen of heaven” mother goddess and consort, child, or even child-consort symbolic of agriculture, who is killed in a brutal manner (“winter”), followed by a tradition of “women weeping” in solidarity with the goddess, followed by a rebirth (“spring”). For the Sumerians, it was a “weeping for Dumuzi”; for the Levantines, a “weeping for Tammuz”; for the Greeks, a weeping for Adonis; for the Phyrgians, a weeping for Attis. These were practices especially significant for the womenfolk to engage in.

As Alan W. Watts wrote in Easter, Its Story and Meaning: “It would be tedious to describe in detail all that has been handed down to us about the various rites of Tammuz, Adonis, Kore, Dionysus and many others …. Some of them were celebrated at the vernal equinox, or thereabouts, and some at midsummer. But their universal theme—the drama of death and resurrection—makes them the forerunners of the Christian Easter, and thus the first ‘Easter services’ … The points of resemblance between … the myth and ritual of ancient and ‘pagan’ cults … is at times startling enough to look like a conspiracy.”

The Prophet Ezekiel (Gustave Doré, 1866)
Public Domain

The Prophet Ezekiel described women some 1,500 years after the Sumerians still adhering to the same practices. He wrote along the same lines as Jeremiah, describing worship of the same queen of heaven, and adding further worship details.

Israelites Weeping for Tammuz

Ezekiel 8 is a condemnation of the paganism to which the ancient Jews and Israelites had fallen. “He [the Lord] said also unto me: ‘Thou shalt again see yet greater abominations which they do.’ Then He brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat the women weeping for Tammuz” (verses 13-14). As with the original Sumerian worship of Inanna and Dumuzi, here were Israelite women weeping for the death of Tammuz, son of Astarte. There is debate as to when exactly this worship took place. The fifth-century b.c.e. writer Aristophanes places it in early spring. We will return to the date soon.

But before we leave the Ezekiel passage, there are more striking parallel details in the worship surrounding Astarte and Tammuz. “And He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east” (verse 16).

Should it be any surprise to find a similar practice as part of modern Easter worship? This closely parallels yet another specific aspect of the Easter service, known as the “sunrise service.” This tradition has a service take place outside on Easter Sunday, facing east to observe the rising sun.

Participants face east at an Easter Sunrise Service on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
M Quinn GRCA

Further, in this vein: In the fourth century c.e., it was ruled that churches be constructed with the entrance at the west end and the “altar” at the east, so that congregants would face the rising sun during the service (the opposite of the layout of Israel’s temple and tabernacle). This cathedral tradition has continued ever since—and even for churches not orientated so that the congregants face the sun, the points of the cathedral are still referred to as if they were.

The following was written in Philip Schaff’s History of the Church: “The English Easter, Anglo-Saxon Oster, German Ostern, is at all events connected with the East and sunrise.”

The parallels continue.

Lent

Of course, the worship of Easter centers primarily around Good Friday and particularly Easter Sunday. But these are only part of a much larger event, including Lent. Lent preempts Easter by 40 days—a period of penance, fasting and self-denial. Again, the pre-crucifixion Lent is not mentioned in the New Testament—neither are the related celebrations, such as the hedonistic Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) that preempts it, nor Ash Wednesday, Mothering Sunday, Maundy Thursday, etc. Volumes could be (and have been) written about the origins of these days. We’ll briefly touch on Lent in general.

A Mardi Gras parade, as part of the hedonistic carnival celebrations immediately before the Lent period of mourning. Traditions include overeating, costume-wearing, food-battles, drunkenness, toplessness and general debauchery. The Mardi Gras in Sydney, Australia, has been termed the “world’s biggest homosexual and lesbian festival.”
Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

According to the fifth-century monk of Marseilles, Cassianus, “the observance of the 40 days [of Lent] had no existence, so long as the perfection of that primitive church remained inviolate.” If it was not a custom for the first Christians, where did it come from?

This pre-spring fasting custom, in direct relation to the reemergence and worship of the sun, can be found around the ancient world. The Egyptians observed a 40-day period of “fasting” in honor of the god Osiris, son of Isis. Likewise in Latin America, at the advent of spring, the pre-Christian Mexicans “began a solemn fast of 40 days in honor of the sun” (Alexander von Humboldt, Mexican Researches).

A 17th-century drawing, based on the Calendar of Filocalus, shows self-flagellation alongside a candle and “Madonna” statue during the Megalesia of Cybele (354 C.E.).
Public Domain

Thanks to the writings of the fourth-century c.e. Roman historian Sallustius, we have a fair amount of detail regarding the worship of the “great mother” goddess Cybele and her slain son Attis, as worshiped in Rome and Anatolia (one of the Astarte-Tammuz equivalents).

Prior to the reincarnation of the vegetation god Attis in spring, celebrants would engage in a weeklong period of mourning known as Megalesia, fasting or abstaining from various foods (especially meats, pork in particular—Attis was slain by a boar). This self-denial would eventually culminate in practices including frenzied self-flagellation, even castration.

An Easter flagellant in Italy
Eoghanacht

Of course, in today’s Western nations, there is typically no such bloody self-mutilation in the lead-up to Easter (although these traditions are still continued in quite gruesome manner in some regions, particularly in the Philippines). Most Western Lent traditions simply include some form of fasting from select foods—particularly an abstention of meats or at least pork.

But this general type of practice, especially from Cybele’s eunuch-priests, can also be found in the Hebrew Bible.

Jezebel was the infamous Phoenician queen-consort of Israelite King Ahab. She is credited with bringing paganism to new levels in Israel, particularly the worship of the Phoenician goddess Astarte and her consort, Baal. The sheer quantity of her priests is expressed in 1 Kings 18:19: “the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (New King James Version)

Jezebel’s priests self-flagellating atop Mount Carmel (William Hole)
Rockyespy.com

This chapter describes a great “battle” between the priests of Baal and Elijah in revealing the identity of the true God. You can read the story for yourself—pertinent for this topic is the manner in which the pagan priests, paralleling the later Cybele’s galli priests, attempt to call on the sun-god Baal. “And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with swords and lances, till the blood gushed out upon them” (verse 28).

As for the Dates …

This is where things get especially confusing. Of his death and resurrection, Jesus stated: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). He would be crucified and buried for three days and three nights.

Thus, naturally, the crucifixion is commemorated on Good Friday afternoon and the resurrection on Easter Sunday morning—two nights and 1½-ish days later.

Wait, what?

The math does not work out. But this is a critical question—because as the preceding verses show, it is on the precise fulfillment of this very sign that Jesus staked his entire messiahship! (See also Matthew 16:4 and Luke 11:29.) It is ironic that, in marking the crucifixion on Friday and the resurrection on Sunday, Jesus’s messiahship is effectively denied—not to mention implicating him as a liar.

But based on the internal calendar evidence in the New Testament, Jesus was neither crucified on a Friday nor resurrected on a Sunday. Instead, the dates align with a Wednesday afternoon crucifixion, the day of the Passover, and a Saturday afternoon resurrection, 72 hours later. (You can read more about that in the following article by Mark Nash.)

Timeline of the crucifixion week, taken from Mark Nash’s article “When Was Christ Crucified and Resurrected?”
theTrumpet.com

There is actually a fascinating reason for a “Good Friday” crucifixion and the “Easter Sunday” resurrection. They are antithetical to the timeframe given in the New Testament—yet fit perfectly with the worship of the queen of heaven goddess.

The ‘Quartodeciman Controversy’

The New Testament describes Jesus and the apostles keeping the Passover as written in the Torah. What was changed from the eve of the crucifixion were some of the practices observed: As Jesus’s crucifixion fulfilled the symbolism of the animal sacrifice, temple sacrifices were made no longer necessary, including the killing and eating of the Passover lamb. Instead, this was replaced by the symbols of unleavened bread and wine taken on the Passover evening. Also footwashing, symbolizing humility and service, was instituted as part of the evening service. (This is all described in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13 and 1 Corinthians 11.)

As such, the first-century apostles continued to keep the modified Passover on the 14th, as well as the other holy days commanded in the Torah, such as the Days of Unleavened Bread (1 Corinthians 11:26-28), Shavuot/Pentecost (Acts 2:1), Yom Kippur/Atonement (Acts 27:9), and Sukkot/the Feast of Tabernacles (Acts 18:21). And they continued to keep the weekly Sabbath. (The apostles preached on the Sabbath day—Acts 13; 17:2; 18:4; Jesus said that “the sabbath was made for man”—Mark 2:27; Paul wrote that “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God”—Hebrews 4:9; English Standard Version.) You might be surprised to find that Sunday observance is not found in the New Testament. As the Catholic Cardinal James Gibbons wrote, “You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day we never sanctify” (Faith of Our Fathers).

How, then, was Easter worship instituted? Enter the Quartodeciman (“14th”) Controversy.

By the second century c.e., a great contention had broken out between the churches in the East (including Jerusalem) and the churches in the West (led from Rome). The churches in the East continued to keep the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, no matter the day of the week it fell on—the Rome-led churches wished to anchor worship to Sunday. The Encyclopedia Britannica states:

Generally speaking, the western churches [directed by Rome] kept Easter on the first day of the week, while the eastern churches … kept [Passover] on the 14th day. St. Polycarp, the disciple of St. John the Evangelist and bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome in 159 to confer with Anicetus, the bishop of that see [area], on the subject; and urged the tradition, which he had received from the apostle, of observing the 14th day ….

The Burning of Polycarp, C.E. 168 (Jan Luyken, 1685)
Public Domain

Polycarp, the church leader who had succeeded the Apostle John, was around 80 years old at the time of this confrontation; he was persecuted for refusing to adopt the Sunday observance of Easter and, shortly thereafter, was arrested and burned alive for failing to worship Caesar.

Polycarp was succeeded by his disciple Polycrates, who likewise refused to budge on the issue of worship on the 14th. Encyclopedia Britannica continues: “About 40 years later (197) the question was discussed in a very different spirit between Victor, bishop of Rome, and Polycrates, metropolitan of proconsular Asia …. Victor demanded that all should adopt the usage prevailing at Rome ….” Polycrates wrote:

We, for our part, keep the day [Passover] scrupulously, without addition or subtraction. For in Asia great luminaries sleep [he lists several Church leaders, including the Apostle John and Polycarp] …. All of these kept the 14th day of the month … in accordance with the gospel, not deviating in the least but following the rule of the faith. … So I, my friends, after spending 65 years in the Lord’s service and conversing with Christians from all parts of the world, and going carefully through all Holy Scripture, am not scared of threats. Better people than I have said: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Monastery painting of the Council of Nicaea in C.E. 325. Arius, who took a contrarian view, is depicted “defeated” at the feet of Emperor Constantine.
Jjensen

This dispute about observing a 14th Passover crucifixion memorial versus an Easter Sunday resurrection celebration continued on into the fourth century. The Nicene Council (c.e. 325), convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine (a pagan ruler who was the first to make Christianity an official religion of the Roman Empire), ruled that Easter Sunday would be made the official day of worship and branded all others heretics. “[N]one hereafter should follow the blindness of the Jews,” it was decreed. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the subsequent success that Rome had in bending Christianity to Sunday Easter worship. “The few who afterwards separated themselves from the unity of the church and continued to keep the 14th day were named Quartodecimani, and the dispute itself became known as the Quartodeciman Controversy.”

And as for the Sabbath in general, that same decade saw Constantine enforce Sunday worship; this was further affirmed by Rome later in the fourth century, with the decree of the Council of Laodicea: “Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord’s day [Sunday] …. But if any shall be found to be Judaizers, let them be anathema [cursed and excommunicated] from Christ.”

The Sun Day Problem

Sunday, then, was essential to worship in Rome. But the establishment of an “Easter Sunday” resurrection, entirely independent of Passover and its dates in the Hebrew Bible, causes dramatic calculation problems. The 14th of Nisan is not a fixed day of the week—Sunday, of course, is. And the New Testament is detailed in stating that Jesus was crucified and buried the day before the Sabbath (e.g. Luke 23:54), thus assumed to be a Friday. The reference, however, is not to a weekly Sabbath but to the shifting annual Sabbath of Leviticus 23:6 that occurred during that week. (Again, for more information, see the above-mentioned article “When Was Christ Crucified and Resurrected?”)

Thus, with an assumed fixed Friday crucifixion and assumed Sunday resurrection (the Bible doesn’t say Jesus rose on Sunday, but that he was already risen by the first day of the week—Luke 24:1-6), we have an irreconcilable period of less than two days’ burial—versus the three days and three nights described by Jesus.

But it is no accident that the Roman church anchored Easter worship to Sunday—in connection with sunrise services (and the worship of the sun in Ezekiel 8). That is, after all, why we call it Sun-day—it is the day historically associated with worship of the sun god (just as, for example, Thursday is named for the god Thor). The Romans regarded “Sunday” as the day of the sun god, Sol (or Sol Invictus), calling it dies Solis in Latin. (They also regarded December 25th as the “birthday” of this “unconquerable sun god”—this was the original Julian date of the winter solstice and applied as the birthday of Jesus.)

Solar Apollo with halo of Helios, second century
Mathiasrex

The ancient Greeks, likewise, named Sunday after their sun god Helios, calling it hemera Helio. It is from this Greek word for the sun that we get our term halo—the sun-disk famously used in religious paintings, depicted over the heads of Jesus and the apostles, beginning from the fourth century c.e. onward. But “halos” have been used for pagan deities as far back as Sumerian times. And the first day of the week has long been historically associated with pagan worship of the sun—after all, the sun is indelibly connected to the first day of the Creation Week (Genesis 1:3-5).

Isis, with sun disk halo, nurses her infant Horus in a classic “Madonna and Infant” pose (c. 650 B.C.E.).
Public Domain

Given the pagan origins of Easter and direct relation to sunrise and sun-worship, it should be no surprise that Easter would be celebrated on a Sunday—nor that this worship was enforced by the pagan-cum-”Christian” Roman Emperor Constantine, beginning in the fourth century c.e.

The Catholic Doctrinal Catechism states the following regarding the institution of Sunday worship (and the changing of biblical religious festivals in general):

Question: Have you any other way of proving that the church has power to institute festivals of precept?

Answer: Had she not such power, she should not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her—she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday, the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday, the seventh day, a change for which there is no scriptural authority.

Even this points back to the Hebrew Bible: Daniel 7 prophesied an emerging Rome-based religious entity that would “oppress the holy ones of the Most High. He will intend to change religious festivals and laws, and the holy ones will be handed over to him …” (verse 25; Christian Standard Bible).

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The story of Easter, then—as well as Christmas and Sunday worship in general—is the story of an empire retaining existing, popular pagan customs observed for millennia and applying the stamp of Christianity on them. Put simply, with the Roman adoption of “Christianity,” the “birth” and “rebirth” traditions of the respective seasonal deities were fitted to the birth and resurrection of Jesus; the death and “weeping” fitted to the crucifixion.

And this phenomenon is described in the New Testament.

‘Beware Babylon’

At the top of this article, we stated that the Easter holiday cannot be found in the pages of the New Testament. In a manner of speaking, though, the New Testament does describe Easter worship.

Even during the first century, we read of the apostles becoming aware of a popular movement to appropriate the name of Christ to existing, pagan customs. This was something that Jesus had warned about: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?” “[W]hy call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Matthew 7:22, Luke 6:46). This “Christian in name, pagan in custom” movement can be especially traced back to Samaria, to the spiritual leader and “magician” Simon Magus (Acts 8), who later became established as a counterfeit religious leader in Rome.

The early first-century apostles warned against appropriating the name of Christ to the existing pagan practices, even identifying them as ancient “Babylonian mysteries.” Right at the end of the first century, the Apostle John wrote the following about this “mystery religion,” highlighting its roots (Revelation 17:3, 5; 18:4, 7, 23):

… I saw a woman [symbol of a religious entity] sit upon a scarlet coloured beast [symbol of a political power or empire] …. And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth. … Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. … [F]or she saith in her heart, I sit a queen …. [F]or by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.

John also specifically condemns one of the major church areas for starting to “tolerate that woman Jezebel,” with the type of pagan practices she spread through ancient Israel (Revelation 2:20; English Standard Version).

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that in the fourth century c.e.—when Christmas observance officially began, Easter worship was instituted, Sunday worship was mandated and Sabbath worship was outlawed—the book of Revelation was removed from the general reading list of the established Christian church.

An Earth-wide religious deception, and the power behind it, is described by John in Revelation 12: “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world …” (verse 9). Satan is famously identified as the Lucifer (Heylel) of Isaiah 14:12—the “son of the dawn.” Sound familiar? The Greek Septuagint calls him “Eos-foros.” Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Lucifer himself was worshiped in the ancient world as “son” of the dawn goddess.

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Click here for a free copy of The Truth About Christmas

For further study on this subject, read our free booklet The Truth About Christmas here. It details the “journey” of Christmas (Christmas specifically, but along the same lines as Easter). It looks right back at the beginning of these festivals, with the worship of Ishtar and Tammuz in Babylon—and how they relate to a certain foundational personality actually named in the book of Genesis. And take a look at our related booklet Pagan Holidays—or God’s Holy Days—Which? and book The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy (all of our literature is free).

Anciently, the Israelites worshiped Astarte-Ishtar, queen of heaven, with cakes, drink offerings, fires and sunrise services. Today, Easter is worshiped (perhaps at a “queen of heaven” church near you) with cakes, drink offerings, fires and sunrise services. None of these have anything to do with the New Testament Passover or Jesus. Still, some argue that there is no harm in them, as long as they are done to “honor Jesus.” But we have already seen the answer to that argument in Jeremiah 7 and 44, Ezekiel 8, Matthew 7, Revelation 20 and other passages.

And as the Prophet Jeremiah was inspired to write concerning “Christmas tree”-related worship (Jeremiah 10:2-3, 5-6, 10; New English Translation):

The Lord says, “Do not start following pagan religious practices. Do not be in awe of signs that occur in the sky even though the nations hold them in awe. For the religion of these people is worthless. … And they do not have any power to help you.”

I said, “There is no one like you, Lord. You are great. And you are renowned for your power. … The Lord is the only true God.”

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