Ēostre or Ostara, the Germanic goddess of Spring. By Johannes Gehrts (1884).
Ah, spring! The smell of flowers, copulating rabbits, and anti-theist propaganda. I had originally planned on discussing the history of Easter at length in order to debunk the dubious claim it was originally in celebration for the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, however I discovered that other bloggers have already done an excellent job doing so. Long story short, Ishtar has nothing to do with Easter. Rather, historians believe that the Easter we celebrate today took most of its aspects from the Germanic spring festival commemorating the pagan goddess Ēostre – whose fertility symbols included rabbits and eggs. The end of winter was a time for celebrating the resurrection of spring and good harvest for many cultures, and therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that Christians in Europe chose to adopt already attractive pagan elements into their celebration of the resurrection of Jesus – a move not unusual in the history of Christianity.
But maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the symbols of Easter do go back to the early days of Christianity. Baby chicks coming out of eggs could represent Christ emerging from his tomb; the rabbit represents Jeshua Cottontail – the animal’s Messiah; we eat chocolate because it’s brown and so was the cross. See? It is possible for Easter to remain purely Orthodox. For further information on the history of Easter check out www.historyofeaster.info.
Now that that’s settled, I thought I’d take this occasion to discuss the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, which I think most will find quite eye-opening.
Since this post is a tad long and exhaustive scrolling can lead to carpal tunnel, feel free to jump to its following segments.
- Problems with the Gospels as Historical Accounts
- The Historical Validity of the Empty Tomb
- The Evolution of the Risen Jesus in Textual Tradition
- What Did the First Disciples Believe?
- Jesus as the Exalted Son of God by his Resurrection
- The Son of God in Historical Context
—Deleted Scenes: The Gospel of Peter’s account of Jesus emerging from the tomb
—Sources and Further Reading
Problems With the Gospels as Historical Accounts
When I was a young tike my mom would occasionally put on for me the imperative cartoon for cool Catholics growing up in the 90s: Animated Stories from the New Testament on VHS. All I really recall learning from these tapes was that Jesus was an important man who was white, soft spoken, could perform magic tricks, and had women begging at feet. I’m happy to report that my understanding of the historical Jesus has grown with my height since then, eventually forcing me to accept the fact that these stories about him aren’t as simplistic and straightforward as many believers continue to claim. It wasn’t long ago I rediscovered the episodes of the cartoon online, finding it quite interesting how the writers attempted to weave together the gospels to construct a single, consistent account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Granted, if you were to quickly read through the gospels one by one, your memory would probably do the exact same thing, like a puzzle: remembering the story of Jesus as a single unit after having pieced together the different accounts – all while having payed little attention to pieces which turned out to be doublets or don’t fit together smoothly.
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Since Genesis never gives an account of the first couple’s wedding, a fair number of rabbinic writers give us their thoughts of how it went. Below is a condensed version by Howard Schwartz from the midrashic sources. The most entertaining aspects of this story, in my opinion, are the archangels Michael and Gabriel serving as Adam’s groomsmen (I bet the bachelor party was off the hook knowing those two), God’s role as best man and snazzy wedding planner, and the angelic dance party that followed. Continue reading
Male and female He created them.
The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
To explain away this seeming contradiction, later writers of Jewish mysticism proposed that the first chapter is referring to a separate woman; that God had created a partner for Adam before Eve named Lilith who later rebels after refusing to mate with Adam in the missionary position, insisting that she be on top (it should come as no surprise why feminists love her). Never coming to an agreement, Lilith leaves the garden and becomes a demon. Her name appears once in the Bible, Isaiah 34:14, which is believed to refer to a demoness of the night. It is therefore more than likely that Lilith is based off of the Babylonian night demon Lilitu, a succubus who seduces men in their sleep. Her name is also listed among other monstrous creatures in a fragment of The Dead Sea Scrolls. While her demonic identity is known from such early sources, including the Kabbalah, the first and primary source of her story as Adam’s fallen wife comes to us from a medieval text known as The Alphabet of Ben Sira (8th-10th century CE): Continue reading
17th century illustration of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, known originally in Jewish folklore as a Faduah
Little record remains of this myth, which says that prior to his creation of Adam, God constructed a human-like creature known as Faduah or Adne Sadeh. While it resembled man, it was attached to the earth by its naval cord upon which its life depended. Therefore it was confined to the radius of the length of its cord which could grow as long as a mile, surviving by eating whatever grew or walked in its circle. While it could live a very long life, it would die immediately if its cord snapped.  Continue reading
In the image of God he created him; The Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth
—Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:7
Some midrash report that God created two Adams: one who was not made from dust but stamped in the image of God, and the other made from the dust of the earth. The former was placed in the garden of Paradise in heaven while the former, our Adam, was placed in the garden of Paradise on earth. The notion of two Adams derived from a seeming contradiction between the two creation accounts in Genesis where different things are said about man’s creation – an explanation reflected in the works of the first century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria. It was Philo’s belief that something made in God’s image must be very much like its Creator, far transcendent to human beings. He concluded therefore that the figure created in Genesis 1:27 was not the same as the man created in Genesis 2:7. Philo identifies the transcendent figure as the Heavenly Man, as God’s invisible image, and as God’s Logos, identifying the Logos as the “eldest-born Image of God” (De Confusione Linguarum 62-63). Thus, for Philo, the earthly man was made after the image of the Heavenly Man.