For the past several years, this meme has made the rounds at Easter time.
A number of issues come to mind:
- What’s the point?
- Is it true?
- What is that amazing relief in the background?
Clearly the meme is intended to belittle and/or demean the Christian celebration of Easter. We see the “insider’s” poke at the fertility symbols associated with Easter—eggs and bunnies. It’s pretty obvious that eggs and rabbits are associated with birth, just as Easter is about rebirth. Perhaps some Christians haven’t thought too terribly much about it, but it should surprise no one that the secular celebration of Easter is associated with the symbolism of the religious observance. Of course, it’s always cool to throw the word “sex” into the discussion, so that those who missed the egg, rabbit, birth connection can play along too.
It seems to me that the mask is pretty transparent anyways. The new bit is the connection to the “Assyrian and Babylonian goddess Ishtar”. Again, this appears to be an attempt to discredit by association. It is true that there are symbolic, mythological and name connections throughout the Bronze Age Near East. This is an interesting phenomenon, worthy of considerably more space than I will give it.
Is It True?
It’s tempting to just google “Easter and Ishtar” and snoop (or should I say Snope?) around. Fair enough. From the point of view of critical thinking, this is one approach. Unfortunately, it tends to simply shift “I believe this meme” to “I believe this website” which runs the risk of not being very critical at all. (I think I’ll write about this another day. The question of the critical use of authorities remains interesting and educationally important.)
Let’s just apply a bit of logic to the meme’s central claim. The claim is that “Easter” is historically, religiously and linguistically connected to “Ishtar” and that the connection is explicitly connected to Constantine and the Roman Empire’s adoption of Christianity. Given that Constantine spoke Latin, you would expect the Latin word of Easter to be as close or closer to “Ishtar” as the English word. Not even close. In Latin, Easter is Pascha—a word recalling the Hebrew Passover. In fact, most European languages seem to have words derived from Pascha for Easter. Here’s a small sample:
- Spanish—Pascua de Resurrección
No Ishtars in sight. Well not quite; you do see something that looks rather like “Easter” or “Ishtar” in German: Ostern. (Other Germanic languages such as Danish or Dutch have Pascha-related words; other languages, such as Polish or Lithuanian have words that appear unrelated to either. I leave that for the interested reader to explore.)
Easter and Ostern do appear to have something to do with the East, as does the name Ishtar, so at least we have that. But the claim that there is a straight line from Ishtar to Easter, running through Constantine appears to be complete rubbish. (It’s unlikely that Constantine spoke either English or German 😊)
That Amazing Relief
The image on the meme is from the British Museum. It is a fired clay relief known as The Burney Relief (boring) or The Queen of the Night (love it!).
In the dry British Museum style:
Rectangular, fired clay relief panel; modelled in relief on the front depicting a nude female figure with tapering feathered wings and talons, standing with her legs together; shown full frontal, wearing a headdress consisting of four pairs of horns topped by a disc; wearing an elaborate necklace and bracelets on each wrist; holding her hands to the level of her shoulders with a rod and ring in each; figure supported by a pair of addorsed lions above a scale-pattern representing mountains or hilly ground, and flanked by a pair of standing owls; fired clay, heavily tempered with chaff or other organic matter; highlighted with red and black pigment and possibly white gypsum; flat back; repaired.
Is it Ishtar? Maybe. If we can trust Wikipedia, there is some scholarly debate on that issue.
So what is my educational point? Critical thinking is important, it can bring a great deal of fun and entertainment, and it requires some patience and thought. In the case at hand, I asked two critical questions: What is the point? And Is it true? I’ll return to these another day. Often critical thinking exercises ignore the first and do a poor job of the second. I’ll keep these in focus for a while.
Until then, enjoy the season. If you celebrate Easter or Passover, let the depth and solemnity of the days guide you. If you enjoy a bit of secular chocolate and fun, enjoy that too. And enjoy the voluptuous sexuality of Ishtar or whoever it is depicted in the Queen of the Night relief.