The Pagan Origins of Easter
Humans possess an extraordinary capacity to make up stories and then invent evidence to believe them. For years it was widely believed that the Norwegian lemming committed mass suicide by every few years mindlessly joining their fellows in huge migrating throngs and pitching themselves off cliffs to die in the sea. This idea seemed to be supported by the wide fluctuations in Norwegian lemming populations commonly observed. Also, large numbers would sometimes be seen migrating from one area to another.
This story became so entrenched that when Disney made the acclaimed documentary “White Wilderness” in 1958 it contains a scene of dozens of lemmings hurtling over a cliff into the ocean. The problem was that the lemmings in the scene were not Norwegian lemmings but brown lemmings indigenous to Canada and the makers of the film had paid the local Natives $1 a piece for the lemmings and then forced them off a truck into the water. As a child, the picture of the little bodies flailing helplessly through the air never left me and I was convinced that lemmings committed mass suicide because I had witnessed it. The problem was the whole idea is a complete myth. It became embedded in many people’s consciousness because they had seen it.
This morning I got up early to check on a heifer that was close to calving. The clear sky sparkled with stars. I looked up and found the Big Dipper and, of course, right next to it the Little Dipper. The tail star on the handle of the Little Dipper is called Polaris or the North Star and has been used for centuries to denote “north” to travelers and sailors. Because of their association this morning I could see that the Big Dipper was slightly west of the Little Dipper. While I observed this with my own eyes I am still dependent on what I have learned from others. The whole identity of the two constellations is something I learned from my big brother when I was quite small. It appears to be confirmed by others but the fact remains that there is no knowledge that is not dependent upon previous observation and identification by other people. Nothing we know is completely independent.
A frightening thing about us humans is our ability to believe falsehood or half-truths and constantly see the world through this distorted prism. A classic example of this is the “blood libel” against Jews. This idea has existed for over 2000 years and has been written down countless times. A classic version comes from Apion who tells of a traveling Greek who was captured by foreigners (Jews) who kept him prisoner and plied him with all kinds of tempting food. He had discovered that the Jews’ intention was to prepare him for an annual ritual feast. “They would kidnap a Greek foreigner, fatten him up for a year, and then convey him to a wood, where they slew him, sacrificed his body with their customary ritual, partook of his flesh, and, while immolating the Greek, swore an oath of hostility to the Greeks. The remains of their victim were then thrown into a pit.” [Josephus, Against Apion]
This lie exists in many forms and iterations and has directly caused the death of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Jews. Anyone who actually knows Judaism would know their complete antipathy for human sacrifice of any kind and especially the consumption of human blood. But even today millions of humans repeat this calumny in some form and use it to fan their hatred of Jews.
I am happy to confess that I am Messianic, Hebrew Roots—whatever the acceptable contemporary term being used for those who believe in the Hebraic roots of our Messianic/Christian belief and that God’s call to Israel and his instructions (Torah) are eternal. But we are developing some dangerous myths that are corrupting our message and blunting our witness.
One of the most salient of these is the idea that Easter comes from pagan sources and that the Church’s celebration of Easter does not come from the historical celebration of the death and resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) but carries over from pagan and idolatrous practices. These ideas are so entrenched that one can even find them in supposedly credible sources such as encyclopedias.
One of the pillars of this belief lies in the term “Easter.” It is thought to be an adaptation of the goddess Ishtar or possibly Eostre. The concept is that the term reveals the actual origins of our Easter practice.
I am going to suggest a little research for you. First google the original documents from the Nicaean Council and see the actual term used to describe Easter (the time of Constantine.) Then check out the Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Italian synonyms for Easter. You will note that all of the historic Church languages do not have the word Easter nor any cognate for it. The word is Pasch or Pascha a derivative of the Hebrew Pesach. Easter is an English, Germanic word some believe derived from the goddess Eostre or even just the direction “East.” By the time Tyndale translated the Bible in the early 1500s the word Easter was so associated with the Resurrection he refused to use the word Easter to describe the celebration of Pesach in the book of Exodus and he coined the term Passover which for a lot of reasons is a great approximation of the Hebrew Pesach. English Jews of Tyndale’s day even called their Passover fast “Oesterfesten.” You can check all these facts out.
So Easter is an older word than Passover. Those telling you that Easter is pagan and the Bible prescribes Passover are victims of linguistic manipulation. Because the English, German and Dutch churches use the term “Easter” the next research you can do is to find out if these churches do different things at Easter than the traditional churches based in Rome, Athens, and Istanbul. Check out the liturgical history of Easter observance. You will discover Lent, the stations of the cross, emphasis on Yeshua (Jesus) as the Paschal Lamb and voluminous scripture readings including Exodus 12 where God gave the instructions for Pesach. What you won’t discover is any substantive difference between the churches using the term Easter versus those using Pasch or Pascha. Nor will you find any evidence of Ishtar, Asherah, Semiramis, etc. Scholars such as Tyler Dawn Rosenquist have done extensive research on these so-called associations and debunked all of them.
The association of eggs with both the Jewish Passover Seder and the celebration of Easter is ancient but its exact derivation is unclear. It appears to be associated with the idea of new life. It is not necessarily pagan. The bunnies are a very late addition, not present in all Christian tradition, and obviously a distraction. My suggestion is avoid the distractions.
One of the things that we Messianics ignore is that as believers in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ) our emphasis has shifted. All four gospels expend considerable effort showing Yeshua as the Passover Lamb slain for the sin of the world. Paul corroborates this concept in 1 Corinthians 5:7 where he states “Christ our Passover” before admonishing us to celebrate the Feast. Excoriating Christians for gathering to celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lamb of God is counterproductive and plain wrong.
We keep the Passover Seder every year on the traditional Jewish dates and have gained much from doing so. The Last Supper of Yeshua looks very much like a Seder admitting that the formal Seder traditions we have now were not present at that time. My point is trashing one tradition to exalt another is counterproductive. It is lashon hara (evil speech) designed to divide the brethren. Those of us who celebrate the Seder realize that we are, at best, merely rehearsing. The Bible dictates that the true celebration of Pesach take place in Jerusalem and requires a functioning Temple.
Finally worship is intentional. We don’t accidentally worship God or idols. One of the sacred names of God is Yah. It is the term we use when we say Hallelujah—praise the Lord. German speakers invoke “ja” numerous times every day saying this exact word. Are they calling upon the Lord? Of course not. There is no worship without intent.
We can do wrong unintentionally or out of ignorance but there are no accidental pagans. Calling something Christians do out of reverence for their Passover Lamb and from the joy they experience celebrating his Resurrection is not only wrong it is hateful and counterproductive. We can disagree with something and not believe the worst about those who practice things we don’t like.
Sadly, the emphasis on the so-called paganism of the early church has robbed us of the church’s real sin—anti-semitism. So much of what went wrong and that has stained our past comes from this great sin. Study of the early church fathers and on down through the generations reveals that this is not an empty accusation. The changing of dates, methods of celebration and a general movement away from Biblical practice is much more connected to our “hatred” for our fathers (the Jews) than paganism. It is probably good to remember that slander is wrong—whether speaking of our enemies or of our friends. In the beatitudes Yeshua tells us that if we want to look like our Father, to truly be his children, we will be peacemakers. My prayer is that we could all become peacemakers in God’s family.
Our small community orchestra rehearses on Tuesday night. Tonight we were joined by some other school kids here in the valley. It was a lot of fun.
An orchestra reminds you that you need to do your best but that you must fit in with everyone else and follow the conductor. Each instrument is usually playing different music but quarter notes have the same time value for all players as also do the eighth notes, whole notes, etc. Individual excellence is rewarded but only as it is sublimated to the rest of the orchestra sound. You don't play a solo unless it is called for by the score. You don't get to do your own private interpretation or come up with a novel way to count time or award note values. It is not like Facebook.
And yet, it is wonderful. To hear all the different instruments blending together to produce a harmonic anthem is incredible. An orchestra, even a very amateur one like ours, is a perfect balance of individual excellence and team work.
Often, we repeat truths because we can't seem to grasp them or fully apprehend them. Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. One of the most grotesque, cruel, barbaric events in history only occurred because anti-Semitism was allowed to fester and grow in European culture.
One of the architects of the "Final Solution" was Otto Adolf Eichmann. A German who grew up in Austria he became part of the Hitler youth in his early twenties. His home was stanchly Protestant and he played the violin and engaged in sports as a boy. He managed to escape immediately after the war in 1945 but was eventually caught and brought to justice and hung for his war crimes in 1962. A friend testified at his trial that he said he would "leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction."
A Polish Jew named Yehiel Di-Nur was brought in to testify at Eichmann's trial. He had spent 2 years at Auschwitz. Di-Nur made a brief statement at the trial and then collapsed. Later he told Mike Wallace on 60 minutes that what had undone him was not that Eichmann was such a horrible, evil man (which he was) but that he was so "normal." Yehiel said when he looked at Eichmann he realized there was a little of Eichmann in all of us. The Nazis did not start out as awful, murdering genocidal maniacs.
We can't afford to forget the lessons of the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is a ferocious, corrosive evil that rots the very fabric of society. So is any other ethnic or group hatred. Thinking how you are going to destroy those who disagree with you, how you are going to silence them, how you are going to eradicate them, awakens the demons sleeping within.
So some lessons from the Holocaust to remember are to love Jews and love your enemies. Even if these two groups are the same group for you.
Ruminations on Numbers 35.
On the set of the western movie “Rust” on Thursday, October 21, Alec Baldwin was practicing removing his gun from the holster and pointing it at the camera in preparation for a scene in the movie. Suddenly the gun discharged, killing the director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, and wounding the director Joel Souza who was directly behind her. The gun had been certified as “cold” i.e. not containing real ammunition before being given to Mr. Baldwin. Horrifying, apparently accidental, but a wife and mother lost her life.
In the Torah in B’midbar (Numbers) 35 God gave explicit instructions on how Israel was to respond to accidental killing. The Levites were allotted 48 cities spread throughout the land of Israel with some in each tribe as they were not given a tribal territory of their own. Six of these Levitical cities were specially designated as cities of refuge. Three of these were on the west side of the Jordan and three were on the east. This was to allow easy access for anyone who might need to flee to their protection.
When a person killed someone they had to flee to a city of refuge where the congregation would be called to determine if the killing were intentional thus murder or accidental in what we might term manslaughter. If the congregation found the killer guilty of murder—intentional, planned and malicious—he was turned over to the avenger of blood who would kill him. If he was found innocent of intentional malfeasance he was sent back to the city of refuge where he would be safe. The killer was required to live in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest. If he ever ventured outside the city the avenger of blood could slay him with no repercussions. The killer could not pay a ransom to shorten his stay—for safety he had to live in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest.
The killer, if designated a murderer, had to die, there was no recourse nor forgiveness. 35: 33 ‘So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.’ The only justice for murder is the slaying of the one who committed murder. We find this idea also in Genesis 9: 6 Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.
God makes plain in the text that this is a perpetual obligation. Numbers 35: 29 These things shall be for a statutory ordinance to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Today, if the killing of Halyna Hutchins had taken place in ancient Israel Mr Baldwin would have been compelled to flee to a city of refuge. If found innocent of intentional harm he would then live in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest.
It is pretty easy to read this passage and pass it off as irrelevant. For at least two reasons: 1- most Christians don’t believe Yeshua (Jesus) when he said he didn’t come to destroy the law or the prophets 2- none of us would ever kill anyone and if we did accidentally, our culture assures us we did nothing wrong and deserve no punishment.
The Bible does not hold to the view that intent determines guilt. Halyna Hutchins is dead regardless of Alec Baldwin’s intent. She is made in the image of her creator and her death carries vast importance with that creator.
For those who follow Yeshua (Jesus) and accept him as their Redeemer and Savior this passage carries great weight. One of the things Yeshua did (any in many ways the ancient sages agree with him) was dig deep into the intent of the law (Torah) and how our behavior relates to it. In Matthew 5 he reminds his listeners that the Torah tells us that those who murder are subject to judgment. But, he goes on to say, that anyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment. Those who call their brother a fool are in danger of the fires of hell. In other words, Yeshua is linking anger, slander and hatred to murder. In 1 John 3:15 the apostle corroborates Yeshua’s point by affirming that whoever hates his brother is a murderer. In rabbinical tradition one who indulges in lashon hara (evil speech) murders three people—himself, his listener and the one being spoken of.
We probably have all said something inadvertently that really injured someone. Off-the-cuff criticism, snide insults, angry retaliation often lead to angry words and damaged feelings that in Yeshua’s description render us subject to judgment.
How do we run to the city of refuge? What does that mean today? Psalm 91 One who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will lodge in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God in whom I trust!” Yeshua promises in John 6:37 “whoever comes to me I will never cast out!”
So we come to the shelter of the “Most High” and surrender to his provision and enter His city. Hebrews 12: 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Yeshua, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
We discover two powerful truths as we enter our “city of refuge.” First our high priest has died. By coming to the city and accepting his sacrifice and atoning death we are set free to return home. Second the sprinkled blood does speak better than the blood of Abel. Abel’s blood cried out for justice. Justice can only come for Abel with the shedding of the blood of Cain, his murderer. The sprinkled blood of Yeshua satisfies our bloodguiltiness before the law. By shedding his blood he meets the demand of the law for the shedding of blood of the guilty party. When we accept his sacrifice in our behalf his blood purchases our freedom as expiation for the land has been made “by the blood of him who shed it.” Isaiah 53: 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
Thus we find that for the person who comes to the Lord with a truly repentant heart, provision has been made for the unintentional damage we do to each other and forgiveness when the hurt is intentional and malicious. Psalm 46: 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High.
May we all find our way to the city of refuge.
I have been struggling with insomnia the last while. This means I get up a little earlier. This morning when I left the house for a run it was before 5 am. It was dark and marvelously clear. Omnipresent smoke has suffocated our valley from California, Oregon and northern Utah fires. The sun sets as a flaming red ball resembling what one sees in smog shrouded cities. Our little valley which is world famous for its air quality now features a smoky atmosphere that burns your eyes and chokes your throat.
But this morning I could see the stars. The waning moon was beautiful but not so bright as to drown out the sparkling lights filling the heavens. As I ran past the trees in the windbreak I startled a couple of owls (I think) and they launched themselves into flight with considerable noise and fanfare. Two days ago when I ran, a surprised coyote shot across the road in front of me. All the nocturnal activity reminds me that just because I can't see it doesn't mean nothing is happening.
Due east, Orion shone brilliantly as if reclining on his side. I couldn't see the Big Dipper at first. So I went backwards. I found Polaris and then tracked my way to the Big Dipper. It was in the northeastern sky and the end of the handle just concealed below the horizon.
Often when I run I listen to music. A favorite group of mine is Casting Crowns. Two days ago I was listening and they sang a song titled "Wedding Day." It begins "There's a stirring in the throne room And all creation holds it's breath Waiting now to see the bride groom Wondering how the bride will dress And she wears white."
The words almost stopped me. Knowing how screwed up I can be and also, all of mankind, I was curiously affected knowing the purity and righteousness of the bride depends on Him. The song goes on to say "When someone wins your heart And says you're beautiful
When you don't know you are." It was a potent reminder that a true measure of spirituality is the ability to see people as they can be and not as they are.
Today the lyrics "caught between the God we want and the God who is" captured my attention. One of the 10 commands is to have "no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath." One of the greatest temptations of humans is to form God into their own image or, at least, make Him someone they can make peace with or accept.
We even find good Christians trying to bend reality to fit their concept of the Bible. In essence they work extremely hard to shove God into their box trumpeting this is how God has to be because that is how they perceive Him. I have found a great deal of peace by realizing that I will never discover a "truth" that disagrees with who God is. Yeshua (Jesus) said "I am the way, the truth and the life" and also "everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
This is why I will never see a chasm between the revelation of God and science. Paul says in Romans 1:20 "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse." Oddly Paul doesn't say here that we will see "His eternal power and divine nature" from a book--he says we will see it in what he has made.
This means you can relax. As Paul also says "we can do nothing against the truth." A natural example would be a group getting together and voting that they are no longer under the laws of gravity. When they step off a cliff they will quickly discover that we truly can do nothing against the truth. It is important to remember that collisions with the truth can be painful.
This got rather long. But it has been percolating inside of me for some time. I know I take myself way too seriously at times. Remember that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. I hope you find something to watch, read, listen to, and share that brings you joy.
House of Aaron Articles/ Teachings
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