4/26/14: Update Below
So the Richard Dawkins Foundation posted a picture on Facebook identifying Ishtar as the goddess that Easter was named after. Assuming that the original author of the picture meant that Ishtar was the earliest form of the Easter goddess, it implicitly identified Eostre, the Western fertility goddess that Easter is named after, with Ishtar, the Eastern goddess whose Mesopotamian and Anatolian dying-and-rising cult is centered around Christmas and Easter. This caused a lot of people to think they finally caught Mr. Smarter Than Religion in a huge blunder, although Dawkins himself does not control the Facebook page. A Germanic goddess and a Middle Eastern goddess? How could there be any relationship between those two?
The Dawkins fan definitely should not have just thrown that out there like it was a indisputable fact that the names were etymologically linked. It’s also dripping with anti-theist sarcasm that characterizes the New Atheist movement, which probably isn’t a good way to convince people. But it goes to show how far the movement has gone now that they’ve been able to open up the door on a dialogue about Easter that was perhaps slightly cracked open when Stan from Southpark said, “I’m just saying that somewhere between Jesus dying on the cross and a giant bunny hiding eggs, there seems to be a gap of information.”
Since Old English has no relationship to the Semitic languages of Mesopotamia, there was of course a huge backlash for the picture’s author’s inability to fact check. One of them tried to say that we don’t know for sure that eggs and bunnies originally came from the fertility goddess, suggesting that it may have come from monks exchanging eggs during Easter in the Middle Ages, but that would seem to be quite a coincidence. Nearly all of them disputed the Ishtar-Eostre connection. Rational Blogs put it this way:
9. No, Eostre isn’t a form of Ishtar or Astarte. That comes from a certain strand of Christian belief that all pagan gods are played by the same small cast of demons. Ishtar was ancient Babylonian, Eostre (if she existed) Anglo-Saxon; thousands of miles and many hundreds of years apart.
10. By Google Maps, Ishtar’s holy city of Uruk lies a phenomenal 3,500 miles from Jarrow, where Bede wrote down the name of the alleged Goddess Eostre. (For comparison, that’s about the same as the distance from London to New York.) To make that journey today, you would have to travel through Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Germany and Belgium before crossing the English Channel and making the final trip up to Tyne and Wear in the UK. Ishtar was not only 3,500 miles away from Eostre, she was about a thousand years earlier in time, too.
11. There is, however, linguistic evidence to suggest a Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess (Hausos) who may be the antecedent of Eostre. This is NOT the same thing as postulating a single entity who turns up across the centuries in different guises. That’s Time Lords you’re thinking of.
No one in the media has really tried to defend the connection, including the “Dawkins Foundation”, which subsequently retracted the picture. But let me go out on limb and say that despite the fact that it seems like it’s an etymological impossibility, I do think there is a link between the names Ishtar and Eostre.
The reason I think there is a connection is because, yes, the Dawn Goddess is a Time Lord: the worship of her somehow thrived throughout all of Eurasia, from Spain to Mal’ta (just above China) for over 20,000 years, making the belief system so vast and all-encompassing that the word “religion” may not be an adequate classification for it.
The problem is people tend to think that before the “monotheistic revolution” of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, everyone had their own gods and their own language which had no relationship to one another. This is a completely false paradigm. Looking at the archaeological evidence of humanity’s prehistory, we can see that there was only one deity that was worshiped before the dawn of civilization: a goddess with huge breasts held by tiny hands, a faceless head covered with beads (or striped caps, or something), sometimes including a bead necklace, and huge hips that often descended into tiny pin-sized feet. These characteristics are far too specific and far too common for all these “Venuses” to be different goddesses. Likewise, most languages are derived from Proto-Indo-Eureopean, which started around Turkey around 3500 B.C. and then spread all the way to Ireland and India over 3000 years. So if you have both a language and a goddess religion spread throughout the entire Old World long before the primary sources were written, you can see where linking Ishtar to Eostre is no where near as crazy as everyone seems to think it is.
Contrary to what the author of the Rational Blog wrote, neither the name Ishtar nor the goddess behind the name originated from Uruk. It was only the city that housed one of the most famous temples to her. Uruk was a Sumerian city. The Sumerian name for Ishtar was Inanna, and the Sumerian language is completely unrelated to the nearby Semitic Akkadians who used the name Ishtar. The name Ishtar is a generic name for “goddess” and can actually be found all across Mesopotamia and Anatolia in many different forms: Astarte, Atar, Astar, Ashtar, etc., located in Syria, Palestine, Aram, Arabia, and Anatolia. These many different forms provides genetic proof that the name is very old. This is confirmed by figurines of Inanna that have the same characteristics of the Eurasian Mother Goddess. This goes to show that ALL the fertility goddesses from Mesopotamia and Anatolia were the same goddess, which is all derived from the ancient Mother Goddess.
If the Mother Goddess was worshiped for over 20,000 years, that certainly rules out dismissing a cultural relationship because of a mere millennium, and even if Ishtar did come from Uruk, 3,500 miles is not some crazy long distance that disproves any connection. It is a widely accepted possibility that the Norse division of the gods between the Aesir and Vanir is equivalent to the Hindu division between the Asuras and the Devas and the Zoroastrian division between the Ahuras and the Daevas. Both Aesir and Asura appear to derive from the Proto-Indo-European word *hzénsus meaning “life force”, which is related to the Hittite word hass meaning “to give birth”. The division between the gods also fits well within the context of other religions in between such as the Titans vs. the Olympians of Greece and the Elohim vs. the Baalim of Mesopotamia. (Elohim is the word used for God in the Hebrew Bible despite the fact it is linguistically plural and Baalim is the plural of the god Ba’al, as in Baelzebub.)
Eostre is related to the word “East”, the direction in which the sun rises. The Proto-Indo-European goddess mentioned, Hausos, “the Shining One”, became Eostre when an extended stem “tro” was added to it. It is unknown exactly where Proto-Indo-European began, but the best guesses so far are the Pontic Steppe north of the Black Sea or just a little further south in Anatolia, which is now called Turkey. Ishtar was definitely known in this area. Her name appears in the Hittite “Kingship in Heaven,” the original creation myth that inspired the creation story in Hesiod’s Cosmogony. “The Empire of the Amorites” (1919) by Albert Tobias Clay (printed by Yale) made a very compelling case, on both a historical and etymological level, that all the Mesopotamian gods originated from Anatolia.
There are also hints of a shared mythology between Germany and Mesopotamia. Baldr is a dying-and-rising god who is accidentally shot and killed by his blind brother Hodr with a mistletoe dart, which was the Achilles Heel of the otherwise immortal deity. Baldr’s mother Frigg, who was identified with Venus, asked the goddess of the Underworld, Hel (from which the name Hell derives), to release Baldr if all objects weep for his death, a ritual reminiscent of the “weeping for Tammuz” that was done for the dying-and-rising version of Yahweh at the Jerusalem Temple, as shown in Ezekiel 8:14. But because of the refusal of a single giantess, believed to be the “trickster god” Loki in disguise, Baldr was to remain in the underworld until Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse. Isaiah 14:12 also speaks of a Canaanite “son of the Dawn” named Hel-El, or “Hel-God”, who falls from heaven, mimicking the descent of Venus or “evening star” at dusk. Like Eostre, this “Shining One” is named after the twinkle of Venus in the morning and evening, from which the get the Latin name “Lucifer”. The Canaanite myth is likewise linked to the mythological motif behind the most famous of the myths about the Sumerian Ishtar, “Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld”, which also happens to feature the underworld ruled by a goddess rather than a god. Hel-El’s father Shahar, the god of the dawn, also had a twin brother, Shalem, the god of the dusk, and the deity that Jerusalem, or Yeru-shalem, was originally named after. They appear to follow the same “good twin/bad twin” motif that Baldr and Hodr occupies, symbolizing the dual natures of the rising morning star and the falling evening star, and are often considered to be the twin avatar of Athtar, the male equivalent of Ishtar.
The ancient fertility goddess and the dying-and-rising gods have an ancient link to one another. Each of the mysteries, from Dumuzi to Tammuz to Adonis to Dionysus to Osiris to Baldr was associated with a mother goddess who causes the death of the god and/or tries to bring him back to life. Vatican hill was known to have hosted the Anatolian Mother goddess Cybele, who they called Magna Mater, or “Great Mother”, whose lion totem confirms her association with Ishtar, and the Vatican necropolis has turned up images equating Jesus with Mithras using symbolism of the sun. Thus, religious syncretism is far more ubiquitous than most people realize, so it’s not surprising that they balk at the idea the Christian religion, whether they love or despise it, may be part of a tradition that has a far older pedigree than a 2,000-year-old Jewish apocalyptic movement.
Here are some criticisms I got via Twitter:
@Atheist_Viking: The New World Encyclopedia rewrites Wikipedia articles to serve the agenda of the Unification Church. Hardly a place I’d cite. Speculation from them is worse than useless. It should be dismissed outright.
Thanks for pointing that out. I had originally written that I was the only person to venture a real defense for the possibility that Easter came from Ishtar, but then decided to make one more search on the internet to see if that statement was true. I was a bit perturbed by the lack of a source but assumed that in the very least it meant I was “not alone” in seeing a connection, and so deleted my original sentence and replaced it with that quote about some unnamed scholars. Admittedly, I was a bit stretched for time since I wanted to get it posted before I went to have an Easter lunch.
@LilithsPriest: There’s no “Ishtar” from 20,000 ybp, although there have been Goddesses forever.
I never said the name Ishtar is as old as the figurines. The goddess had multiple names of course, but variants of the name Ishtar were very popular around Anatolia and the Middle East.
@danguyf: How does that work when Easter originated as Pascha and is only called “Easter” in Germanic languages?
It’s like saying Yule came from Saturnalia. Pascha’s based on an earlier Canaanite festival that’s universal. Passover was still celebrated by polytheistic Jews who worshipped Anat (sister of Hadad) along side Yahweh.
@danguyf: I just meant the name. That Christ is the Passover lamb is entirely intentional.
Inanna’s/Ishtar’s husband Dumuzi was also a martyred shepherd.
@Cavalorn: Eostre has no egg and hare symbolism, though. That’s all retroactive association from later writers, beginning w/ Grimm. Bede admits to offering speculative interpretations of festival names, cf. Modranecht. So he saw value in doing so. Also, his Modranecht comment strongly implies he had no first-hand information to draw from.
Even without Grimm’s speculations, the connection to fertility is the most reasonable explanation.
@Cavalorn: Not definitively based on PIE. Dr Philip Shaw argues a different derivation
I am open to that possibility. Unfortunately, the link you gave me didn’t go to it.
@Dragonblaze: Both are cyclical gods, used as an aetiology for the death and rebirth of vegetation. As that’s an universal observation in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s no more evidence for direct connection than the existence of solar deities is. The Greek Persephone myth is a similar aetiology for the same observation, but again, it’s not connected to either. It can be, as I just illustrated in the Isis/Madonna comparison. Especially if iconography is based on a similar observation…
The story of a young vegetation god whose life is ended by being hung on a tree or entrapped by demons beside a tree and who ends up splitting his time between his wife, who is associated with the planet Venus, and her sister, the Queen of the Underworld is a good synopsis for myths associated with both Dumuzi/Inanna/Ereshkigal and Adonis/Aphrodite/Persephone and a complicated enough story that I would posit a single origin for it.
@Dragonblaze:The nearest equivalent to Persephone would be Geshtinanna, Dumuzi’s sister, Lady of the Vine – but her exile is voluntary.
Persephone and Ereshkigal are both Queens of the Underworld and share our time with the dying-and-rising god with Ishtar/Aphrodite.
@Dragonblaze: Seriously, I really don’t get where @Bahumuth gets his “one world language” idea from, especially when tied to Paleolithic. Show me ONE linguist who claims PIE existed in Paleolithic! And you’re forgetting isolates, Fenno-Ugric etc. Not _quite_ sure, but as he seems to link the Paleo figurines to his “one world religion and language”, it’s likely.
I didn’t date the name to the Paleolithic, just the goddess behind the name. Proto-Indo-European is dated to the 3000s B.C. although some go so far as to date it to the 7500s.
@Dragonblaze: Deities based on phenomena, like solar and lunar deities have a common function, but aren’t related… I would say all deities have common functions. But the myths can vary a lot…
I would say that 20,000 years of only female figurines is in itself a pretty big coincidence.
@Dragonblaze: So these phallic figurines that are 12,000 years old don’t count?… I’m not a mind reader, and when your tweet said “no male figurines”, this article shows that claim is wrong. This is always the danger: we may interpret pre-literate artifacts wrongly based on our cultural expectations. Also, the Shigir Idol is not conspicuously female, and it’s c. 7500 BCE… Male Vinca figurine… Male figurine from Tisza Culture, c. 5000 BCE
My claim was 20,000 years of only female figurines.
Oldest Venus: 35,000 years old
Oldest penis-shaped figurines: 12,000 years old
Oldest genderless figurine: 9,500 years old
35,000 – 12,000 = 23,000 years
35,000 – 9,500 = 25,500 years
@Dragonblaze: As for the facts, why would the myth make the jump between Mesopotamia and England/Germany without leaving traces to other European languages? It’s Pascha, Pask, Pasquale etc in the others. Eostre and Ishtar are also separated in time, and it’s not even certain that Eostre _was_ a real goddess, given the lack of evidence.
The Norse Aesir and the Hindu Asura are separated by even longer spans of distance and time, but many scholars see a connection between those names.
@Dragonblaze: …I asked for citation of your claim…
@Dragonblaze: Okay, thanks. The connection here is more plausible, as Sanskrit and Old Norse are both IE languages.
Okay, so a connection between German and Hindu Proto-Indo-European isn’t crazy but a connection between German and Anatolian Proto-Indo-European is?
@Dragonblaze: The _only_ IE language in Ancient Near East is Hittite… Time and place, remember? Hittite culture died quite early, 1178 BCE and there is no record of it having influenced other IE… Besides that, Ish[t]ar would be a Semitic loan word in Hittite, whereas Aesir/Asura/Anhju are from a PIE root. See the difference?
The Hittites were followed by the Syro-Hittites who also had Ishtar.
Besides that, the Hittites were not the only Indo-European speakers in the Near East. There were also the Armenians. In Armenian mythology, the goddess of love and fertility was Astghik, literally “East Star” i.e. Easter, from the Proto-Indo-European word *hzster. The Armenians themselves identified Astghik with both Ishtar and Aphrodite, both of which are equated with the Roman Venus, the “East Star”. The Armenians celebrated her festival not in April but July, and the holiday was rededicated to the Transfiguration of Christ when they became Christianized. From these facts alone, I would argue we do not even need the Venerable Bede to make the confirmation that the name Easter came from a goddess.
Like Ishtar, Astghik had a lover, Vahagn. Astghik and Vahagn formed a triad with Anahit, a goddess of war, wisdom and healing, who they identified with Artemis. Like Artemis’ brother Apollo, Vahagn was a dragon-slayer. The brother-sister theme of Apollo/Artemis is likewise paralleled by the sibling-lovers Hadad and Anat. Anat takes revenge for Hadad between his death and resurrection, which I see as paralleled by Geshtinnana helping her brother Dumuzi escape his demonic persecutors. The dragon slaying motif is likewise paralleled by Yahweh’s fight with Leviathan, Hadad’s fight with Lotan and Marduk’s fight with Tiamat and in my view reflects the historical defeat of the pre-Sumerian culture of the Ubaid that worshiped Nammu (Tiamat), Enki and Dumuzi as snakes or dragons, as archaeology has unearthed humanoid figures with snake/lizard/dragon faces from that time period in Mesopotamia and Dumuzi is often given the title “Mother-Dragon-of-Heaven” (even though contemporary Sumerians later identified him (but not Inanna/Ishtar) with the same bull totem as most of the other gods). This is also why the Promethean god of wisdom Enki is portrayed as a snake tempting Eve with wisdom from Inanna’s tree in the Garden of Eden (located on the Tigris and Euphrates), just as Inanna (Ishtar) took the secret arts of civilization, the me‘s, from Enki’s temple in Eridu (the Biblical Enoch) and brought it to Uruk. The Sumerians correctly identified the original deity Nammu as a female, even though she was not a main character in any of their myths and barely even registered a personality. The Babylonians did away with her distinction as first deity by personifying the Akkadian apsu // Sumerian abzu, literally “abyss”, into the Father God Apsu, so as to create a patriarch god as ancient as the Mother Goddess, then explained it away by saying Ea (Enki) cast a spell and made Apsu “go to sleep”, that is, turned the “god” into the inanimate freshwater that became Enki’s home. The Babylonian nation god Marduk then slays Tiamat and takes all the titles of the other gods to become the king god, marking what was a growing trend of imperial henotheism, the worship of one god over many, replacing polytheism. But even going to battle against a female must have been too embarrassing for the later Canaanites and Judahites who turned the matriarchal nemesis into a male hydra.
In the Romance languages, Friday is known as the “Day of Venus.” As I explained already in my post, the Norse dying-and-rising god Baldr is protected by his mother Frigg, who is also identified with Venus and whose name is etymologically linked to the Anglo-Saxon name Friday. Baldr was killed by his blind brother Hodr with a mistletoe dart causing him to die on the Winter Solstice (Christmas). This is a myth associated with rise of the morning star and fall of the evening star, which are likewise associated with the twin brothers Shahir, the god of the dawn, and Shalem, the god of the dusk, the sons of El, which is also the Hebrew word for god, and both were equated with Athtar, the male equivalent of Ishtar. This makes Good Friday of special interest since the holy day is traditionally said to be based on John 19:42 making Jesus’ crucifixion the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) even though the Synoptic gospels portray him as being crucified on the Sabbath. The “Sign of Jonah” from Matthew and Luke is supposed to be a prophecy that Jesus would stay in the “belly of the whale” for three days, but this doesn’t fit with either chronology since Friday is two days before Easter Sunday and one day before the Sabbath.
Now, it is true that Ishtar is a Semitic name, and the Semitic language is generally believed to have migrated to the Middle East from Africa. But the etymology of the name Ishtar is uncertain. A popular theory is that Arabia breeds vast numbers of nomadic tribes that cannot be supported requiring them to migrate out in waves as part of a “Saharan pump”: first the Akkadians, then the Amorites, the Arameans, the Nabateans, and finally the Arabians. George A. Barton argued in “On The Etymology of Ishtar” (1911) that it derives from a south Arabian root that means “She who waters”.
But if this etymology is to be accepted, look at what we have here: it means that Ishtar started in Africa, moved through Palestine, and then crossed into Anatolia, while *hzster, a goddess with the same characteristics, the same planet identification, the same mythological background, and a similar name, moved from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, down through Anatolia, into Armenia, essentially criss-crossing one another and being identified with one another by their respective peoples. I will accept that this is a distinct possibility, but it is in the very least a scenario that is far different than envisioned by critics who laugh mockingly about the tenuous connection between Ishtar and Easter as completely out of time and place.
Another theory which I find rather compelling comes from “The Empire of the Amorites”, which argues that Arabia’s climate was actually far more fertile in the ancient world, making the “Saharan pump” hypothesis harder to explain, and that a survey of names do not provide adequate evidence of large scale migrations from Arabia. Leaving aside the anthropological question of the ultimate origin of the Semitic race, Clay points out that Genesis places the Semites as starting from where Noah’s Ark at Mt. Ararat in Anatolia, to Shem’s son Aram, to his son, Uz (Arabia), indicating the belief in a line of migration opposite to that of the “Saharan pump”. Joktan, a great grandson of Shem, has 13 sons named after 13 Arabian peoples, also pointing to a southern migration. The tradition that the six Arab sons of Keturah, the second wife of Abraham, also indicate a belief that the Aramaeans from the north settled Arabia. Clay also provides an analysis on many of the names of the Akkadian gods, indicating a large number of them are from Anatolian origin. Admittedly, Ishtar is not named among them, but if we follow the gist of this scenario, the names Ishtar and *hzster could possibly have originated from around the same place, Anatolia, which also happens to host some of the largest and most ancient monuments predating the Sumerians and Akkadians.
A 2009 Bayesian analysis of Semitic histories identifies an origin of Semitic languages in the Levant around 3,750 B.C. with a single introduction from southern Arabia into Africa around 800 B.C. This to me seems reasonably close enough to the best estimation of the original location of the Proto-Indo-European language to have been the original provider of the name, or perhaps for both languages to have inherited the name from a now dead language.
The description of Noah as the first winemaker also links him with the Eucharistic nature of the dying-and-rising gods such as Geshtinanna and Dionysus (who is also locked in a great chest and thrown in the ocean). This is corroborated by the name of the Greek version of Noah, Deucalion, whose name means “New-Sweet-Wine Sailor”, and whose father is Prometheus, the equivalent of Enki, the father of Dumuzi and the deity who warns the shipbuilder in every Mesopotamian flood myth from Ziusudra to Ut-Napishtim. Baldr also happened to own the greatest ship ever built, called the Hringhorni. In the Finno-Ugaric version of the flood story, centered around Finland, Hungary, and Russia, the sky god Numi-Tarem tries to use a “holy fiery-flood” to destroy the prince of the dead, Kulya-ter, but builds two great ships, an iron airship for the gods and a covered raft for the people, and similar to Noah’s invention of wine, the flood hero tells his wife how to invent beer.
Some of the critics on Twitter have mocked me as a hack and continue to equate my position with that of the Dawkins guy who makes it sound like the connection between Easter and Ishtar is an indisputable fact despite the fact that I criticized him for doing so and then used rather defensive language like “going out on a limb” when saying I believed there was a connection. My point is not that the name Germanic Eostre came directly from the name Ishtar. My point is that the question of the name is a lot more complicated than both sides try to make it out to be. There is good reason to think they are etymologically connected. Not solid proof. But certainly enough to have an educated opinion that they are connected. My opinion is they are. Those who claim to know this cannot be true are the ones taking “shortcuts”.