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Easter: The Resurrection of Spring

by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

Christ in Egypt cover imageListen to D.M. Murdock/Acharya S discuss Easter on the radio:

The article below is excerpted and adapted from:

Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection

Although it is believed to represent the time of Jesus Christ's resurrection, the festival of Easter existed in pre-Christian times and, according to the famous Christian saint Venerable Bede (672-735 AD/CE), was named for the Teutonic or German goddess Eôstre, who was the "goddess of dawn" and who symbolized the fertility found abundantly during the springtime of the year. (See CE, V, 224; Weekley, 491)  Regarding the ancient fertility goddess, in How the Easter Story Grew from Gospel to Gospel, Dr. Rolland E. Wolfe, a professor of Biblical Literature at Case Western Reserve University, relates:

"In the polytheistic pantheons of antiquity there usually was a king or chief of the gods, and also a female counterpart who was regarded as his wife. This mother goddess was one of the most important deities in the ancient Near East. She was called by the various names of Ishtar, Athtar [sic], Astarte, Ashtoreth, Antit, and Anat. This mother goddess always was associated with human fertility. In the course of time Mary was to become identified with this ancient mother goddess, or perhaps it should be said that Mary was about to supplant her in certain Christian circles." (Wolfe, 234)

The comparison between the Babylonian goddess Ishtar and the Jewish maiden Mary becomes even more evident when it is factored in that in an ancient Akkadian hymn Ishtar is called "Virgin." (Sayce, 268) Yet, like Mary, Ishtar too was the "Mother of God," in this case Tammuz, the dying and rising god mourned by the Israelite women at Ezekiel 8:14. (See Mettinger, 213) Indeed, Old Testament scholar Rev. Dr. W. Robertson Smith identifies Ishtar as the virgin-mother goddess worshipped at Petra who was mentioned by Church father Epiphanius. In a footnote, Smith remarks, "The identification of the mother of the gods with the heavenly virgin, in other words, the unmarried goddess, is confirmed if not absolutely demanded by Aug. Civ. Dei, ii. 4." (Smith, 56) The reference is to St. Augustine's The City of God (2.4), in which the Church father discusses with undisguised contempt the Pagan rites surrounding "the virgin Caelestis" and "Berecynthia the mother of them all." (Augustine, 54)  From these remarks and many others over the past centuries it is clear that the educated elite have been well aware of the unoriginality of the virgin-mother motif within Christianity. Yet, to this day the public remains uninformed and/or in fervent denial about such facts....

As demonstrated in Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection, the springtime/Easter resurrection myth occurred in Greek mythology with the tale of Kore/Persephone descending into the underworld to reside with Hades, leading to the death of winter. Her remergence out of the underworld represented the springtime renewal of life on Earth - thus, Persephone's resurrection symbolized eternal life, precisely as did that of Jesus and the Egyptian god Osiris.

Sun on the cross of the vernal equinox imageComprising the entombment for three days, the descent into the underworld, and the resurrection, the spring celebration of "Easter" represents the period of the vernal equinox, when the sun is "hung on a cross" composed of the days and nights of equal length. After a touch-and-go battle for supremacy with the night or darkness, the sun emerges triumphant, being "born again" or "resurrected" as a "man," moving towards "his" full strength at the summer solstice...

It is noteworthy that even older scholarship reflects the knowledge of the strengthening of the sun at Easter, as exemplified by Rev. George W. Lemon, who in his English Etymology, published in 1783, gives the meaning of "Easter" as:

"...at that time or on that day, the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in his wings, like the sun all glorious in the east..."

Jesus Christo Sole Helios sun god imageThe "Sun of Righteousness" refers to Jesus Christ, as purportedly prophesied in the last book before the New Testament, Malachi (4:2). Christ's identification as the "Sun of Righteousness," the placement of his "resurrection" at Easter, and his association with the "sun all glorious in the east," all reflect his solar role, serving as earmarks of Jesus himself being a sun god. Indeed, "Easter" or the vernal equinox truly represents the resurrection of the "Light of the World" - the sun - bringing with it the fertility of spring.

That Easter constituted a pre-Christian festival concerning resurrection is apparent from the discussion in the New International Encyclopaedia regarding Easter customs:

"The use of eggs in this connection is of the highest antiquity, the egg having been considered in widely separated pre-Christian mythologies as a symbol of resurrection..." (Gilman, 492)

In his extensive analysis in The Golden Bough regarding the "dying and rising gods," Sir James George Frazer concluded that the story of Easter as a time of rebirth, renewal and resurrection of life in general could be found in the myths of non-Christian deities such as the Greco-Phrygian god Attis and the Greco-Syrian god Adonis, among others. While various of Frazer's contentions have come under fire, frequently from Christian apologists, in The Riddle of Resurrection, Dr. Tryggve N.D. Mettinger demonstrates the dying-and-rising theme overall to be sound....

Cybele Magna Mater Attis imageDiscussing Attis along with his consort/mother Cybele (the "Metroac" cult/mysteries), Dr. Andrew T. Fear, a professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester, remarks:

"The youthful Attis after his murder was miraculously brought to life again three days after his demise. The celebration of this cycle of death and renewal was one of the major festivals of the metroaccult. Attis therefore represented a promise of reborn life and as such it is not surprising that we find representations of the so-called mourning Attis as a common tomb motif in the ancient world.

"The parallel, albeit at a superficial level, between this myth and the account of the resurrection of Christ is clear. Moreover Attis as a shepherd occupies a favourite Christian image of Christ as the good shepherd. Further parallels also seem to have existed: the pine tree of Attis, for example, was seen as a parallel to the cross of Christ.

"Beyond Attis himself, Cybele too offered a challenge to Christian divine nomenclature. Cybele was regarded as a virgin goddess and as such could be seen as a rival to the Virgin Mary... Cybele as the mother of the Gods, mater Deum, here again presented a starkly pagan parallel to the Christian Mother of God.

"There was rivalry too in ritual. The climax of the celebration of Attis' resurrection, the Hilaria, fell on the 25th of March, the date that the early church had settled on as the day of Christ's death...." (Lane, 39-40)

Attis and Cybele imageThe festival associated with Cybele and Attis, called the "Megalensia," was celebrated specifically in the spring, with a passion play commemorating Attis's death and resurrection. (Salzman, 87) Dr. Fear thus asserts this mourning period of the god Attis to have comprised three days. In reality, this pre-Christian cult remained popular well into the common era, and its similarities to Christianity were not considered "superficial" by the Church fathers such as Augustine who wrote about them. The parallels between the Attis myth and the gospel story are in fact startling and highly noteworthy, and in reality represent an archetypal myth that was evidently changed to revolve around a Jewish messiah, with numerous details added for a wide variety of purposes. Fear's analysis includes the debate as to when this prototypical springtime death-and-resurrection motif was associated with the pre-Christian god Attis, with various scholars averring its components to have been added in response to Christianity.

Contrary to the current fad of dismissing all correspondences between Christianity and Paganism, the fact that Attis was at some point a "dying and rising god" is concluded by Mettinger who relates: "Since the time of Damascius (6th cent. AD/CE), Attis seems to have been believed to die and return." ( Mettinger, 159) By that point, we possess clear discussion in writing of Attis having been resurrected, but when exactly were these rites first celebrated and where? Attis worship is centuries older than Jesus worship and was popular in some parts of the Roman Empire before and well into the "Christian era."

In addition, it is useful here to reiterate that simply because something occurred after the year 1 AD/CE does not mean that it was influenced by Christianity, as it may have happened where Christianity had never been heard of. In actuality, not much about Christianity emerges until the second century, and there remain to this day places where Christianity is unknown; hence, these locations can still be considered pre-Christian.

Herodotus imageIt is probable that the Attis rites were celebrated long before Christianity was recognized to any meaningful extent. Certainly, since they are mysteries, they could have been celebrated but not recorded previously, especially in pre-Christian times, when the capital punishment for revealing such mysteries was actually carried out. We have seen cautious reticence expressed on the part of the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-c. 425 BCE), for example, who declined to reveal the mysteries of Osiris he had witnessed. Herodotus's concerns would not be misplaced, as evidenced by the "witchhunt" that ensued within his lifetime regarding the Athenian politician Alcibiades (c. 450-404 BCE), who was accused of "profaning the Mysteries" and was sentenced to death for his alleged transgressions. (Bauman, 62-64) Under such circumstances, it is understandable that the mysteries were never recorded overtly such that we now have them readily at our disposal....

Concerning the pre-Christian resurrection theme, in Resurrection Dr. Stanley Porter remarks:

"During the Graeco-Roman period, there were numerous cults that had their basis in earlier thought and relied to varying degrees on some form of a resurrection story. Three of them can be mentioned here, although it is not clear that these are different myths. They may be simply the same myth many times retold...." (Porter, 74-75)

Dionysus on the Cross imageIn his discussion of this retelling of myths, Porter recounts the comments by ancient Greek writer Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-27 BCE) that the Egyptian gods are called by many names, such as various Greek counterparts. He then addresses the Orphic myths, which include that of the Greek god Dionysus, "first developed around the sixth century BC in the east." Porter subsequently says:

"The cycle of nature, reflected in the myth of Dionysius's [sic] death and rebirth, tied to the harvest, emphasized the promise of new life to those who followed the cult....

"A second cult worth recounting is that of Isis. This cult was arguably the most important of the mystery religions of the Roman Empire. The figure of Isis was identified with Demeter...but developed her own cult, well-reflected in evidence from Egypt during the Roman period, especially in terms of health and overcoming of disease." (Porter, 75)

Horus ResurrectedNext Porter relates the story of the Egyptian god Horus's resurrection from death as recounted by Diodorus (1.25.6), adding:

"The word used for raised from the dead is αναστησαι [anastesai], widely used in the New Testament for 'resurrection' as well. This same power, evidenced also in Isis's husband/brother Osiris, was then in some sense transferred to all later initiates, who went through a process of initiation into the cult of Isis." (Porter, 76)

Thus, in Horus's myth emerges a resurrection or anastasis, using the precise term found in the later New Testament, in the century before Christ's purported revivification. This fact is highly significant in that it demonstrates yet another solid link between the Egyptian and Christian religions....

The Christian celebration of "Easter," the supposed time of Christ's death and resurrection, follows a roving date traditionally placed on the first full moon following the vernal equinox, which has occurred occasionally during the equinoctial three-day period, as it did in 2008. This wandering date indicates that Christ's passion and resurrection are not "historical," with their placement following the full moon after or at the vernal equinox, demonstrating their astrotheological nature instead....

The "Christos" is not only the sun triumphing over the darkness as the day becomes longer than the night, but it is also the sun's light in the moon, as the moon waxes and wanes monthly. Hence, the full moon likewise represents the sun's "resurrection," and the theme within Christianity also appears to have been influenced by Osiris's entrance into the moon at the vernal equinox as well. That the date of Christ's death and resurrection is based on astrotheology is thorougly demonstrated in the subject's discussion by ancient Church fathers, including the writers of the Alexandria or Paschal Chronicle, also called the "Easter Chronicle" (3rd to 6th/7th cent. AD/CE). In that text, the authors spend significant time calculating the proper dates for Easter, based on astrotheological considerations. In any event, the deity reborn or raised up at the vernal equinox or springtime is a recurring theme not representing a "historical" personage but, rather, a natural phenomenon, i.e., Spring.

Sources

Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, ed. R.W. Dyson, Cambridge University Press, UK, 1998.
Bauman, Richard A., Political Trials in Ancient Greece, Routledge, London/NY, 1990.
Catholic Encyclopedia, V, Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1913.
Gilman, Daniel, et al., eds., The New International Encyclopaedia, VI, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1903.
Lane, Eugene N., Cybele, Attis and Related Cults: Essays in Memory of M.J. Vermaseren, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1996.
Lemon, George W., English Etymology or, a Derivative Dictionary of the English Language in Two Alphabets, G. Robinson, London, 1783.
Mettinger, Tryggve N.D., The Riddle of Resurrection: "Dying and Rising Gods" in the Ancient Near East, Almqvist & Wiksell International, Stockholm, 2001.
Porter, Stanley E., et al., Resurrection, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Supp. 186, Roehampton Institute London Papers, 1999.
Salzman, Michelle Renee, The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity, University of California Press, 1990.
Sayce, A.H., Lecturess on the Origin and Growth of Religion, Williams and Norgate, London, 1897.
Smith, W. Robertson, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, Adam and Charles Black, London, 1907.
Weekley, Ernest, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, vol. 1, Dover, Toronto, 1967.
Wolfe, Rolland E., How the Easter Story Grew from Gospel to Gospel, Edwin Mellen Press, NY, 1989.

For more information, please see Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection.


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