The remembrance of the death and resurrection of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, must be classed as the central theme, the hub, the foundation stone of all Christian doctrine. Today, Saturday, rests between these two major events, and may be viewed as the quiet between two storms. It is good therefore to sit back, take stock, and ask a few questions.
The New Testament speaks about Jesus as the Paschal Lamb. He was crucified on the Passover. The date was Friday April 3rd, AD 33. There is such abundant evidence for this date that it eclipses all the modern attempts to create an alternative chronology. Some have tried to use the figure of speech “Three days and three nights” to insist that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, or Thursday of the Passion Week. But as I have shown in my book “Seven Steps to Bethlehem”, all the historical evidence points to Good Friday, and is corroborated by astronomical evidence. Likewise, the same canbe said for establishing Easter Sunday as the day of the resurrection.
Why then do we use the word “Easter” to describe this major event in the world’s history? What is the origin of the word, and when did it displace the “Pascha” of the Early Church? The following quotation is taken verbatim from “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable”, by Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. [Page 381]
“The name was adopted for the Christian Paschal festival from the Anglo-Saxon ‘eastre’, a heathen festival held at the vernal equinox in honour of the Teutonic goddess of dawn, called by [the Venerable] Bede ‘Eostre’ (cognate with Latin ‘aurora’ and Sanskrit ‘ushas’, dawn). On the introduction of Christianity it was natural for the name of the heathen festival to be transferred to the Christian, the two falling about the same time.”
I take issue with Rev. Brewer over his use of the words “it was natural”. If ever there was a glaring error, this is one. The only ‘natural’ transfer would be to take the Crucifixion [i.e. Passover], and the resurrection of Jesus which followed, from the Hebrew of the Old Testament, not from some ‘heathen festival.’ Now have a look at the article on Easter in the “Dictionary of the Christian Church”, edited byJ.D.Douglas. [Article by C. Gregg Singer, page 322]
“During the second and third centuries serious controversies arose between some Catholic churches and the church in Rome concerning the proper time for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The eastern group, known as ‘Quartodecimans’ [Latin for 14th] insisted that Easter be celebrated on the 14th Nisan. Basically the controversy was concerned with the question of whether the Jewish Paschal day or the Christian Sabbath [!] should determine the time for the celebration, and whether the day of crucifixion or the day of resurrection should be the focal point of the celebration. It was a prolonged struggle, and toward the close of the second century it became so bitter that Bishop Victor of Rome denounced theQuartodecimans as heretics. The controversy was finally settled by the Council of Nicea in 325; it was decreed that Easter should celebrated on the first Sunday after the vernal full moon and never on 14th Nisan.”
The following quotation comes from Hastings’ “Dictionary of the Apostolic Church”, Volume 2, page 135
“Seeing that 14th Nisan could fall on any day of the week, and therefore the celebration of Easter also, the Roman Church, and those who were influenced by it, kept the festival on Sunday as a fixed day, arriving at the date by more or less intricate calculations. It was not, however, by any means the same Sunday that Christians observed even where the principle obtained. The former, mainly Asians,, were called Quartodecimans. At first they agreed to differ. Polycarp, about AD 150, during his stay in Rome, tried to convince Pope Anicetus that the quartodecimanuse was the only one permissible. He did not succeed. Neither could Anicetus succeed in persuading the old master to adopt the Roman method. They parted, nevertheless, on the best of terms. A very different state of things developed when a later pope, Victor, interfered to secure a uniform way. It is a sorry story of schism and strife.”
So much for the name ‘Easter’, and the debate concerning the date of celebration. What about ‘Lent’, ‘hot cross buns’ and ‘Easter eggs’? This is where the research of Rev. Alexander Hislop must be referred to, as set down in his book, “The Two Babylons.” No other work contains such a wealth of information about origins as Hislop’s. The following snatches are taken from his voluminous work. [Pp. 104-109]
“It ought to be known that the observance of the forty days [of Lent] had no existence, so long as the perfection of the primitive church remained inviolate. Whence, then, came this observance? The 40 days’ abstinence of Lent was directly borrowed from the worshippers of the Babylonian goddess [Ishtar, pronounced Easter]. Such a Lent of 40 days ‘in the spring of the year’ is still observed by Yezidis or pagan devil-worshippers of Kurdistan, who inherited it from their early masters, the Babylonians. Such a Lent of 40 days was held in spring by the pagan Mexicans, to quote Humboldt, ‘Three days after the vernal equinox began a solemn fast of 40 days in honour of the sun.’ Such a Lent of 40 days was observed in Egypt, in commemoration of Osiris. . . . To conciliate the pagans to nominal Christianity, Rome took measures to get the pagan and Christian festivals amalgamated. [But it was not until] the time of Hormisdas, Bishop of Rome, about the year 519, that the decree was made for Lent to be solemnly observed before Easter.
“The popular observances that still attend the period of the celebration of Easter amply confirm the testimony of history as to its Babylonian character. The hot cross buns of Good Friday, and the dyed eggs of Easter Sunday, figured in the Chaldean rites just as they do now. The buns were used in the worship of the Queen of Heaven, the goddess Ishtar, as early as the days ofCecrops, the founder of Athens, that is 1500 years before the Christian era. . . . In the mysteries of Bacchus, as celebrated in Athens, one part of the nocturnal ceremony consisted in the consecration of an egg. The Hindu fables celebrate their mundane egg as of a golden colour. The people of Japan make their sacred egg to have been brazen. In China, dyed or painted eggs are used on sacred festivals. In ancient times eggs were used in the religious rites of the Egyptians and the Greeks, and were hung up for mystic purposes in their temples. The classic poets are full of the fable of the mystic egg of the Babylonians.”
These are but brief quotes from a very full work, but are sufficient to point to the origins of the customs.
The purpose of this article has been to provide our readers with information concerning the customs and practises of Christians at Easter, and their historical origins in the mists of antiquity. We do not favour taking rigid steps to enforce modern behaviour at this season of the year. We have no pleasure in recalling the bitter in-fighting between the quartodecimans and the Roman church under Victor, and have no intention of copying it. Let each treat Easter in his or her own way. If, after reading Hislop’saccount, one should no longer wish to indulge the fancy of ‘buns’ and ‘eggs’, so be it. But to lay down some new laws, demanding a cessation of these practises for all Christians must be seen as a form of rigidity not favoured by New Testament writers. Some may want to dispense with Lent, whilst others, knowing full well its pagan origin, may still wish to use the 40 days to think more deeply about the foundations of their faith. So be it. There is no occult power within an Easter egg, or a hot cross bun that should demonise believers, unless they devote themselves to the pagan gods.
The fact is, Christ has both died and risen triumphantly from the grave. In remembering the resurrection tomorrow, we give thanks with the Apostle Paul, who said that “if Christ be not risen, we are still in our sins.” Hallelujah!
Death cannot keep his prey – Jesus, my Saviour!
He tore the bars away – Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes;
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign,
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!