Before Jesus' Birth?
Here is the surprising
story of how a pagan festival came to be regarded as a Christian
holiday. Have you ever wondered what colored eggs have to do with
the death of the man we call Jesus Christ? And what Easter rabbits
and "hot-cross" buns have to do with a supposed Sunday resurrection?
How did a Christian world come to accept and celebrate
what was at one time pagan religious traditions? Let's pull back
the curtain of time and see, at this season, how and why these strange
customs became part of today's religious heritage.
The little known history of Easter:
Turn back the pages of historic for a moment to
the year 8 B.C. (there about). Notice before Jesus' birth. What
was taking place in that particular time among the non-Christian
population of Europe - the Germanic people?
As was customary with the spring of each year,
a particular event was about to take place. General excitement permeated
the town and villages. It was a Saturday evening called sunn-abend,
when the was to occur.
On This particular evening in 8 BC, everyone left
his habitation and gathered outside the village or town. All those
capable, would collect wood, place it around an oak tree and set
As the massive mountain of wood began to burn,
everyone would gather around the fire, completely encircling it.
Flames would light up the entire sky. This ceremony occurred throughout
Then followed the more solemn part of the evening.
The populace would kneel and Besee uh Sunna, their goddess of dawn,
as she was then called, imploring her to bring back the long awaited
spring days. The date of This festival was Saturday night the twenty-first
This was the time of the vernal equinox, when the
short winter days ceased and the long, warm spring months began.
(As a matter of interest, the German word for Saturday -sonn-abend).
it origin traces back to the Saturday night on which the goddess
Sunna was worshipped Hathor.
The ancient Germans counted their days from evening
to evening. Thus Saturday eve was actually the beginning of Sunday.
After having offered sacrifices to the goddess of the spring, on
This evening, the people retired till early morning. On This morning,
Sunday, sometime before dawn, everyone would meet again outside
with their faces to the east, toward the rising sun, praising their
goddess Sunna of bringing them This long awaited first day of spring.
This day, the first Sunday after March 21, was
their annual holiday. It was a joyous day of various celebrations
and games. One of the games was to find colored eggs which were
hidden in the grass, around trees and in other hiding places. The
children especially enjoyed these games.
Although The coloring varied, The predominant colors
of The eggs were red and gold symbolizing The bright rays of The
sun. Some of The eggs were given as an offering to The spring goddess
and The others were eaten. Eggs were regarded as The emblem of germinating
life of early spring. "Hot-Cross" bun were also baked and offered
to The goddess. (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Vol.2 page
34 and Symbolik W. menzel p180.)
Why called Easter?
Moving forward in history, to a time several centuries
after The birth of Christ, we find The heathen populace of Europe
still observing This annual spring festival to The goddess of dawn
or spring. But now she was known by another name - Eostre.
The name Sunna had merely been The localized German
name, which was now changed to The more general name Eostre. Here
is what happened.
During other previous centuries, vast numbers of
people from Persia and Assyria had settled on The European mainland.
These Eastern people were also worshipping a spring goddess. There
celebration likewise coincided with beginning of spring. In fact
even colored eggs were associated with their spring festival. The
ancient Persians, when they depict The festival of the solar new
year in March, mutually presented each other with colored eggs.
The spring festival of these Eastern immigrants was identical to
the festival the Germanic people celebrated. There was only one
difference. The name of their goddess was Ishtar. There Germans
pronounced it slightly different, resulting in Eoster, which was
pronounced as we today pronounce Easter.
Thus the settlers from the East influenced the
local population to alter the name of their goddess Sunna to that
of Easter. With the influx of these Eastern tribes, it became more
generally celebrated than ever before.
had changed except the name of their goddess, now Eostre or in more
modern terminology, Easter.
INTRODUCED INTO CHRISTIANITY
But how and why did the Christian world accept
this festival, knowing its heathen origin? The first three centuries
after Christ reveal what transpired.
Notice the words of a historian of the third century,
Socrates Scholastics, :neither the apostles, therefore, nor the
Gospels have anywhere imposed Easter.: (Ecclesiastical History,
The first Christians continues to observe the Jewish
festivals (that is, the festival God and given to His people Israel)
though in a new spirit, as commemoration of events which those festivals
had foreshadowed (Encyclopedia Britianica, Vol 8 p828)
There was no holiday commemorating a resurrection,
only a festival (the New Testament Passover) commemorating Christ's
death. Instead of celebration a resurrection or Easter festival
- the early Christians kept the annual festival, the Passover."The
Jewish Christians (those who were Jews before conversion and others
who commemorated Christ's death) in the early church continued to
celebrate the Passover." ( International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,
James Orr, p899).
But why this new Sunday festival introduced on
a day that doesn't even commemorate the resurrection? Philosophers
- Magi - from the East had traveled westward, bringing their philosophy
with them. Their powerful influence actually changed the religion
of the Roman populace.
This is how it happened. Some of the most powerful
divine invaders who came from the east to conquer the west were
Solar Divinities. These immigrants from the east brought the religion
of the sun with them. (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Hasting,
Vol. 8 p59)
And one form of sun worship there were very familiar
with was a resurrection festival in the spring. Now these eastern
immigrants settling in the west - with their appealing sun worship
- made a profound impression on the mind of the average Roman. Because
of this, and the fact that a large percentage of the population
was already eastern in origin, the progressing Christian world thought
of a way to add immense numbers to its membership rolls.
Realizing that a vast portion of the population
in the Roman Empire was familiar with Sun Worship, it was decided
to make use of the day on which these Easterners worshipped on Sunday.
A resurrection feast was instituted - not on the literal Sun, which
the pagan had worshipped, but supposedly in honor of the true Sun
Christ? This Sunday festival was introduced in the mid-second century
Heathens become Christians Overnight
Introducing this new festival on the pagan day
of Sunday paid immediate dividends. The heathen populace of Rome
quickly noticed the similarity of the new introduced festival with
own spring festival in honor their goddess.
As a result, they became Christians in droves.
The church grew in numbers speedily outgrowing all the others rivals.
Since the goal during the time of her ascendancy and growth was
to quickly attract new members, the church leaders would often meet
the heathens halfway. This lenient policy made it easier for the
unconverted to become members. Deliberately soliciting new members,
the church allowed the unconverted populace to retain many of its
heathen practices and beliefs - on a watered-down version.
For example, the church knew that many of the
immigrants form the east were used in celebrating a heathen spring
festival. So these heathen practices and festivals were given a
Christina dressing. The newly converted were asked, not to worship
their pagan gods or goddess on certain days, but rather to worship
the Christian God and Savior for these Christianized celebrations
were the identical days on which the pagans worshipped their gods.
This compromise is admitted by the scholar, Aringhus,
he mentions that the church "found it necessary, in the conversion
if the Gentiles to disassemble and wink at many things and yield
to the times. (Diegesis: The Discovery of the Origin of Christianity,
Robert Taylor Boston Mass 1829 p237)
Such compromise with the pagans gained Christianity
vast number of converts. By the time of Constantine in 325 AD church
leaders were able to influence the emperor to pass a decree forcing
all within the empire to keep This Sunday resurrection. It was strictly
forbidden for any Christen to continue keeping the New Testament
Passover. It was considered Jewish. Pagans, now professing to be
Christians, developed a "Christian" philosophy of their own.
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