Easter/Ishtar: The resurrection of the defiant one?

Easter is the Christian celebration for the resurrection of Jesus.

The Jewish elders, after accusing Jesus of making false claims of being a king, asked Pontius Pilate to judge and condemn him (Matthew 27). He was crucified and His body was put to rest in a tomb. After three days, Jesus conquered death and resurrected.

Interesting parallels can be made between Easter and the ancient Babylonian myth of Ishtar/Inanna.

Ishtar is the Babylonian goddess of love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, combat, justice, and political power.[2] Her most famous myth is the story of her descent into the Underworld. In this myth, Ishtar attempts to conquer the domain of her older sister, the Queen of the Underworld. Deemed guilty of excessive pride and defiance by the seven judges of the Underworld, she is struck dead.

Three days later, Ishtar’s personal attendant pleads with the gods to bring Ishtar back to life. All of them refuse, except Enki, the Lord of the Earth, who sends two sexless beings to resurrect her.[3]

Daughter of Sin, the moon god, Ishtar is associated with the planet Venus. The Romans were already celebrating the Veneralia festival on April 1 (the Kalends of Aprilis) in honor of Venus.[5]

Ishtar’s most prominent symbols included the lion and the eight-pointed star. In biblical numerology, number eight relates to new beginning, new order or creation, and man’s true ‘born again’ event when he is resurrected from the dead into eternal life.[4]

The story of Ishtar preceded that of Jesus by more than a thousand years.
Both stories tell of the resurrection of a defiant one:

  • Both were accused of excessive pride and defiance
  • Both were judged and sentenced to death for their crime
  • Both were resurrected after three days

In addition:

  • Both names are phonetically similar (Easter vs. Ishtar)
  • Both holidays celebrate new and eternal life
  • Both holidays are celebrated in April

If the eggs and bunnies are there, it is not just to please kids or because of an accidental  juxtaposition on the calendar of the Christian celebration with the ancient myth. When considered from the historical perspective of the first century CE, a time when the concept of personal salvation was still developing, perhaps Easter could also be understood as the syncretic evolution of the old myth of the resurrection of Ishtar, the ancient Roman/Babylonian springtime pagan feast where rabbits (symbol of fertility) and eggs (symbol of new life), already played a pivotal role.[6]

Happy Eashtar!

[1] Habermas, Gary. 2004. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Kregel Publications and https://www.gotquestions.org/Ishtar-Easter.html
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inanna
[3] While escorting Ishtar out, the guardians of the Underworld drag her husband Tammuz, the Shepherd, down as her replacement. Tammuz is eventually permitted to return to heaven for half the year while his sister remains in the Underworld for the other half, resulting in the cycle of the seasons.
[4] http://www.biblestudy.org/bibleref/meaning-of-numbers-in-bible/8.html
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veneralia
[6] Jobes, Gertrude. 1962. Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore and Symbols. New York: Scarecrow Press. p. 487