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The Origins of the Word Easter

Contrary to the myths that are haunting the internet, the word “Easter” has nothing to do with any ancient pagan goddesses, including the most popular claim that Easter is the English name for the ancient Assyrian goddess Ishtar. Notable experts in the field of Assyriology have completely refuted this myth.

Addressing the pronunciation of Ishtar as Easter, Jacob Lauinger, associate professor of Assyriology at Johns Hopkins University¹ said: “The equation of Ištar and Easter is crazy … We know very little about how Akkadian (of which Assyrian is a dialect) words and names were pronounced, but it appears that at some point Ištar was pronounced issar.”

And other experts in the field of the history of theology, such as the notable Andrew McGowan, Dean of Yale University’s Berkeley Divinity School², have also refuted this myth: “The Ishtar connection is indeed a modern myth … There is consensus that... ‘Easter’ is derived from the words used in Germanic languages …" The only connection between Easter and Ishtar is that they sound similar. A simple fact check shows these claims to be false:

The word "Easter" did not exist until the 16th century, when it was coined (invented) by William Tyndale, the man who first translated the Bible from its original Hebrew and Greek languages into English.

Tyndale, an early “reformer” which movement gave rise to the Protestant Reformation, was persecuted and driven out of England by the church when his request for permission to translate the Scriptures from the original Hebrew and Greek into English were rejected. He fled England and traveled to Hamburg, Germany and joined up with Martin Luther, who had already translated the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into German. Tyndale undertook his translation and relied heavily on Luther's work, coining new English words drawn from many of Luther's German words and phrases, such as Easter (the English translation of the German word Oster used by Germanic people even to this day for the observance of the Resurrection– the word Oster in turn derives from an old Teutonic root word "Aufstehen" the word for “resurrection”). Tyndale used the German “Oster” and coined the new English word “Easter” for the Christian observance of the Resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is observed worldwide, but only by English-speaking peoples is it called "Easter."

Many other English words were similarly coined by Tyndale, relying on the German, such as the word "passover" (to translate the Hebrew pesach and Greek paschal and German passah), “passover” carrying over the “pas” sound from all three original languages but at the same time creating a new English word that gives a theological definition of the event itself, the angel “passed over” the homes of those who were covered by the sign of the blood. (Tyndale was actually quite a brilliant linguist and we, especially we Protestants, owe much to his work) In every instance in the Hebrew and Greek where pesach/pascha were used, Tyndale translated the words as “passover.” Only in one instance does he translate the word “passover” as “Easter,” and that was the post-resurrection passover mentioned in Acts 12:4 recounting the arrest and imprisonment of Peter during the days of Unleavened Bread. In this one instance, Tyndale translated “pascha” as “Easter” rather than “passover,” his intent being to indicate a post-resurrection observance.³ Tyndale coined many other English words to translate the Hebrew and Greek for which there were no equivalent English words, such as “atonement” (at-one-ment) “scapegoat,” “mercy seat,” “shewbread,” and others. Even the name “Jehovah” was coined by Tyndale to translate the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, the four consonants YHVH, and adding the vowels from the name “Adonai” thus producing the name “YaHoWaH” rendered in English as “Jehovah.” The story of Tyndale’s life and his translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek is quite a fascinating story, which you can read here Not only was Tyndale the first to translate the entire Bible from the original languages into English, but he is credited with creating modern English and, further, with translating the Hebrew into poetical English phrases that have become proverbial in the English language.

(Original Tyndale Bible)

¹ Jacob Lauinger, Associate Professor, Assyriology, Director of Graduate Studies: Curriculum Vitae

² Andrew McGowan, Dean and President of Yale University, Berkeley Divinity School, Curriculum Vitae

³ There is a theological difficulty with translating “passover” as “Easter” in that the Christian passover is not Easter. The Christian passover is the Lord’s Supper. Easter is the Christian observance of the resurrection on the Sunday following the Jewish Passover.

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