Asherah and Easter

The readers' responses in the January/February issue to the Asherah article (Ruth Hestrin, "Understanding Asherah—Exploring Semitic Iconography," Sept./Oct. 1991) prompts a reflection that this ancient, detested cult gave Europe the Maypole and ironically influenced Christianity's most holy observance, Easter.

The Venerable Bede (672-735 A.D.) established in his De Ratione Temporum that our word "Easter" (Eastre) was an anglicization of the Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos (IndoEuropean). Festivities in her honor were held throughout April (Eostur-monat) to welcome the vernal equinox.*

Bede himself (along with most modern reference sources) never connected the goddess Eastre with Asherah although, it appears, the connection is inescapable.

Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: World Bible, repr. 1987) agrees that Easter is another form of Astarte (Greek and Latin Asherah variant). This Anglo-Saxon version of the Great Mother Ostarte, Queen of Heaven, shares the less violent themes of Asherah, also known as Astar (Abyssinia), Athtar (Arabia), Ishtar or Istar (Babylonia and Assyria), and at least a dozen other variants throughout the Fertile Crescent. Greece and Rome adopted her name as a distinct goddess yet linked her to many of their other female deities, including Venus, Astraea and Eos, goddess of the dawn. Esther of the Bible was a Hebrew pronunciation of her Persian name (another variant of the goddess Sitarah, meaning star). Phonetically, most of the names are amazingly similar to each other and the European variants.

The practice of blending Christianity with local customs and festivals worked well for early European evangelists. This pagan festival of rebirth was close to the time of Christ's resurrection and could be incorporated into nature's rebirth celebrated in the spring. The discovery of an empty tomb at sunrise coincided nicely with the sect's symbolic association with daybreak and the morning star. Dawn symbolically represented the return of light (Jesus) to the world.

Austron and Eostre provide the root forms for the English words east, star, astronomy and asteroid. Estrus and estrogen also are probably derived from this goddess of sexuality, despite the commonly cited etymology from the Latin word for gadfly, which sounds similar but is conceptually tenuous.

At the risk of rekindling the great debates over the dates on which to celebrate our Lord's resurrection, I would like Christians to accept the Jewish dates for Passover as the starting point for calculating Good Friday, leaving out the vernal (Venus) equinox. This should bring us closer to the true meaning of the events we celebrate and to our Jewish heritage. It is probably too late to change, but if we could revert to the apostolic name of the day or follow the French use of the Hebrew for Passover, we would linguistically respect the commandment to not build a house of the Lord near an asherah.

* A few recent authors, no doubt troubled by this connection, speculate that Easter is derived from a misspelling of the Latin hebdomada alba or albae the white garments worn during the service. One author flatly claims that Bede was wrong and no such goddess is known in the mythologies of any Germanic tribe. It is unlikely that Bede was wrong. He was unusually thorough and scholarly for his time, and he had access to both enormous libraries and the great minds of the church.

by-Larry Boemler, Miami, Florida --taken from Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 18, Number 3, May June 1992