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Originally posted by yahn goodey
reply to post by jmdewey60
where are the keeping of the holydays mentioned in the new testament?
passover:mathew26/mark14/luke22/john13/1corinthians5:8let us keep the feast/1corinthians11:20-34
feast of tabernacles:acts18:21....
Job had seven sons.
Each of his sons would hold a feast, on one day, and then the next son would hold a feast.
Once the cycle was complete (at the end of seven days) Job would hold a sacrifice.
So, here is a seven day cycle,
Easter: Masking a Biblical Truth
In contrast to the general public, which considers Christmas the most important Christian holiday, many theologians regard Easter as the preeminent celebration because it commemorates Jesus' resurrection. As with Christmas, the Easter celebration—rabbits, Easter-egg hunts and sunrise services—have nothing to do with the biblical record of Christ's rising from the dead.
Where, then, did these practices originate?
The Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us: "As at Christmas, so also at Easter, popular customs reflect many ancient pagan survivals—in this instance, connected with spring fertility rites, such as the symbols of the Easter egg and the Easter hare or rabbit" (15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol. IV, p. 605, "Church Year").
The word Easter appears once in the King James Version of the Bible, in Acts 12:4, where it is a mistranslation. Reputable scholars and reference works point out that the word Easter in this verse comes from the Greek word pascha, meaning Passover. Modern translations correctly translate this word "Passover."
Notice what Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says about Easter: "... Pascha ... mistranslated 'Easter' in Acts 12:4, KJV, denotes the Passover ... The term 'Easter' is not of Christian origin. It is another form of Astarte, one of the titles of the Chaldean goddess, the queen of heaven. The festival of Pasch [Passover] held by Christians in post-apostolic times was a continuation of the Jewish feast ... From this Pasch the pagan festival of 'Easter' was quite distinct and was introduced into the apostate Western religion, as part of the attempt to adapt pagan festivals to Christianity" (1985, p. 192, "Easter").
Easter's ancient history
The roots of the Easter celebration date long before Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection. Various Easter customs can be traced back to ancient spring celebrations surrounding Astarte, the goddess of spring and fertility. Francis Weiser, professor of philosophy at Boston College, provides these facts:
"The origin of the Easter egg is based on the fertility lore of the Indo-European races ... The Easter bunny had its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore. Hare and rabbit were the most fertile animals our forefathers knew, serving as symbols of abundant new life in the spring season" (Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, 1958, pp. 233, 236). (For more information about these symbols, see "Fertility Symbols: Beneath the Dignity of God" ).
Fertility rites and customs were incorporated into religious practices early in history. After Adam and Eve rejected God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), humanity looked for other explanations for life. Forces of nature and seasons that could not be controlled began to be viewed as gods, goddesses and supernatural powers to be worshiped and feared. Man soon created his own gods, contradicting God's instruction against idolatry (Exodus 20:3-6; Deuteronomy 5:7-10).
"The pagan nations made statues or images to represent the powers which they worshiped. Most of these idols were in the form of animals or men. But sometimes these idols represented celestial powers like the sun, moon, and stars, forces of nature, like the sea and the rain; or life forces, like death and truth ...
"In time an elaborate system of beliefs in such natural forces was developed into mythology. Each civilization and culture had its own mythological structure, but these structures were often quite similar. The names of the gods may have been different, but their functions and actions were often the same. The most prominent myth to cross cultural lines was that of the fertility cycle. Many pagan cultures believed that the god of fertility died each year during the winter but was reborn each year in the spring. The details differed among cultures, but the main idea was the same" (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986, published on PC Study Bible CD, 1992-96, "Gods, Pagan").
In pagan mythology the sun represented life. The sun supposedly died around the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. (As discussed earlier, the date set for Christmas celebrations is rooted in this myth.) Complementing the rebirth of the sun were spring fertility rites, whose surviving symbols thread their way throughout Easter celebrations.
In addition to rabbits and eggs, another popular Easter custom had pre-Christian origins. "Also popular among Europeans and Americans on Easter is ham, because the pig was considered a symbol of luck in pre-Christian European culture" (The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987, p. 558, "Easter").
Sex rites and rituals
Ancient fertility rites revolved around gross sexual immorality and perversion. References to these rites are referred to throughout the Bible under a variety of names and descriptions.
The Babylonian and Assyrian fertility goddess was Ishtar, whose name may well have been the origin of the word Easter.
Ishtar symbolized Mother Earth in the natural cycles of fertility on earth. Many myths grew up around this female deity. She was the goddess of love, and the practice of ritual prostitution became widespread in the fertility cult dedicated to her name.
"Temples to Ishtar had many priestesses, or sacred prostitutes, who symbolically acted out the fertility rites of the cycle of nature. Ishtar has been identified with the Phoenician Astarte, the Semitic Ashtoreth, and the Sumerian Inanna. Strong similarities also exist between Ishtar and the Egyptian Isis, the Greek Aphrodite, and the Roman Venus.
"Associated with Ishtar was the young god Tammuz, considered both divine and mortal ... In Babylonian mythology Tammuz died annually and was reborn year after year, representing the yearly cycle of the seasons and the crops. This pagan belief later was identified with the pagan gods Baal and Anat in Canaan" (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, "Gods, Pagan"). (For more details, see "The Resurrection Connection").Throughout the Old Testament, God expressed His anger with His people when they served these false gods (Judges 2:13-14; 10:6-7; 1 Kings 11:5-11; Ezekiel 8:14-18).
Easter unknown in early Church
The New Testament does not mention an Easter celebration. Early Christians had nothing to do with Easter. Instead, they kept the Passover, instituted by God centuries earlier at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 12:13-14; Leviticus 23:5). Jesus Christ personally kept this festival (Matthew 26:17-18) and gave it a clearer meaning under the New Covenant with His institution of the symbols of bread and wine (verses 26-29). He is the Lamb of God, offered as the true Passover sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7).
Jesus told His followers to continue this observance in remembrance of Him and His death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Soon, however, pressure to replace Passover with popular Easter customs began to build. This movement was the basis for much contention over the next three centuries.
Notice how the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes this period: "The earliest Christians celebrated the Lord's Passover at the same time as the Jews, during the night of the first full moon of the first month of spring (Nisan 14-15). By the middle of the 2nd century, most churches had transferred this celebration to the Sunday after the Jewish feast. But certain churches of Asia Minor clung to the older custom, for which they were denounced as 'judaizing' (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book V, chapters 23-25). The first ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 decreed that all churches should observe the feast together on a Sunday" (15th edition, Macropaedia,Vol. IV, pp. 604-605, "Church Year").
"After long and fierce controversies over its date (which is governed by the lunar calendar), the date for Easter set by the Council of Nicaea in 325 is the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the spring equinox. Easter became the centre of a fixed liturgical structure of times and festivals in the church year" (ibid., p. 499, "Christianity").
Pressure against the Passover
Why did Easter replace the Passover?
Though Easter was clearly pagan in origin, Christian leaders of the first two centuries after Christ's crucifixion employed the same philosophy in establishing the new holiday that they later applied to Christmas. Believing that people are free to select their own times and customs of worship, they went about gradually replacing the biblically commanded Passover with their humanly devised celebration of Easter.
Prejudice also seems to have been a major factor in their decision to make these changes. According to R.K. Bishop: "The early development of the celebration of Easter and the attendant calendar disputes were largely a result of Christianity's attempt to emancipate itself from Judaism. Sunday had already replaced the Jewish sabbath early in the second century, and despite efforts in Asia Minor to maintain the Jewish passover date of 14 Nisan for Easter (hence the name Quartodecimans), the Council of Nicaea adopted the annual Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21)" (Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984, published on The New Bible Library CD, 1993, "Easter").
Before A.D. 70, Christianity was "regarded by the Roman government and by the people at large as a branch of the Jewish religion" (Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, The Story of the Christian Church, 1954, p. 34). Christianity and Judaism shared the biblical feast days, although Christians observed them with added meanings introduced by Jesus and the apostles.
However, two Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire, in 64-70 and 132-135, led to widespread persecution of Jews and suppression of Jewish religious practices. Jews were even driven from Jerusalem and forbidden to return on pain of death. As pressure mounted, some Christians began to abandon beliefs and practices perceived as being too Jewish. Over time many abandoned their weekly Sabbath day of rest and worship in favor of worship on Sunday and abandoned the Passover in favor of Easter to distance themselves from Jews.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia explains: "Originally both observances [Passover and Easter] were allowed, but gradually it was felt incongruous that Christians should celebrate Easter on a Jewish feast, and unity in celebrating the principal Christian feast was called for" (1967, Vol. V, p. 8, "Easter Controversy").
Acceptance of Easter over Passover did not come without resistance. Two religious leaders of the mid-second century—Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna; and Anicetus, bishop of Rome—debated this very point.
Anicetus argued for Easter while Polycarp, stated Encyclopaedia Britannica, defended observing "the Christian Passover, on the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar, regardless of the day of the week" (15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol. VIII, p. 94, "Polycarp").
Polycarp taught observance of the Passover as the early Church had observed it. Eusebius said Polycarp did so because this was the way "he had always observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles, with whom he associated" (Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, 1995, pp. 210-211). These Christians of the second century were still following the example of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6) in observing the Passover.
Several decades later another leader, Polycrates, argued with Victor, bishop of Rome, over the same issue. Eusebius wrote of the continuing debate:
"There was a considerable discussion raised about this time, in consequence of a difference of opinion respecting the observance of the paschal [Passover] season. The churches of all Asia, guided by a remoter tradition, supposed that they ought to keep the fourteenth day of the moon for the festival of the Saviour's passover, in which day the Jews were commanded to kill the paschal lamb ...
"The bishops ... of Asia, persevering in observing the custom handed down to them from their fathers, were headed by Polycrates. He, indeed, had also set forth the tradition handed down to them, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome. 'We,' said he, 'therefore, observe the genuine day; neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom. For in Asia great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again the day of the Lord's appearing, in which he will come with glory from heaven, and will raise up all the saints ...
"Moreover, John, who rested upon the bosom of our Lord; ... also Polycarp of Smyrna, both bishop and martyr. Thraseas, ... Sagaris, ... Papirius; and Melito ... All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. Moreover, I, Polycrates, who am the least of all of you, according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have followed. For there were seven, my relatives [who were] bishops, and I am the eighth; and my relatives always observed the day when the people (i.e., the Jews) threw away the leaven.
"I, therefore, brethren, am now sixty-five years in the Lord, who having conferred with the brethren throughout the world, and having studied the whole of the sacred Scriptures, am not at all alarmed at those things with which I am threatened, to intimidate me. For they who are greater than I, have said, 'we ought to obey God rather than men'" (Eusebius, pp. 207-209).
Unfortunately, people's reasoning won out over the directions of God and example of Jesus Christ.
A new worship theme
As Easter replaced Passover, not only was a new date selected (the Sunday after the spring equinox rather than the biblically directed Nisan 14), but a new theme was introduced. Rather than commemorating Christ's death as directed by the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 11:26), the new holiday was designed to celebrate His resurrection. This new theme nicely accommodated the pagan fertility symbols. It also helped distinguish the Christian community from the Jews, a major goal of church leaders of the time.
This time of year became popular for baptisms, and the days spent preparing for them became known as Lent. Here is how T.J. German describes the Lenten period:
"[Lent is] a forty-day period of penitence and prayer which begins on Ash Wednesday and prepares for the feast of Easter. It is a form of retreat for Christians preparing to celebrate the paschal mystery. It became a forty-day retreat during the seventh century to coincide with the forty days spent by Christ in the desert; before this Lent usually lasted only a week.
"Every Friday of Lent is a day of abstinence. Fasting probably originated from the custom of fasting by those who were expecting to be baptized after being catechumens [baptismal candidates]. The third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent refer to the process of preparing for baptism" (Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, "Lent").
Although Christ's resurrection is an important basis of our hope that we, too, can be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:17; Romans 5:10), neither God the Father, Christ nor the Scripture has ever directed us to celebrate this event.
Indeed, the love of God is primarily expressed to all humanity through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Hebrews 9:28). His death is the real focus of the Passover, not His resurrection. Many precise details of His death and events leading up to and encompassing it were prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures hundreds of years in advance.
The decisions of God the Father to willingly give His only begotten Son—and of Jesus Christ to surrender His life to torture and execution as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity—were far more agonizing than the demonstration of God's power over death via the resurrection.
Mankind's need for a Savior
There is more to consider. The Bible discusses sin and our need for forgiveness and reconciliation to God (the theme of the biblically commanded Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread) far more often than the subject of the resurrection. Within the King James Version of the Bible, the word sin is used 447 times compared with the word resurrection being used only 41 times. Don't forget that sin was the cause of Christ's death. Only by repenting of our sins and being reconciled to God by the death of Christ can we be assured of being resurrected (Acts 2:38; John 5:29; John 11:25).
This is not to minimize the importance of Christ's resurrection. It, too, is a crucial step in the salvation process (1 Corinthians 15). After being reconciled to God the Father by the death of His Son, ultimately we are saved by Christ's life as He pleads for us in the role of our High Priest (Romans 5:10; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1).
However, nowhere does the Bible instruct Christians to keep a celebration of Christ's resurrection, nor is there a biblical record of early Christians doing so. But it is clear that both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul expected Christ's followers to commemorate His sacrificial death on our behalf (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 11:23-28).
Nonetheless, the celebration of Easter prevailed. Those who remained faithful to Christ's example of keeping the Passover decreased in number and were persecuted by those favoring Easter.
Although how God views humanly devised changes in the worship He commands will be considered in a later chapter, let us now examine how the traditions of this holiday fail to match the biblical record.
When was the resurrection?
The choice of a Sunday date for Easter is based on the assumption that Christ rose from the grave early on a Sunday morning. The popular belief is that Christ was crucified on a Friday and rose on a Sunday. But neither of these suppositions is supported by the biblical record.
Matthew 12:38 shows some of the scribes and Pharisees asking Jesus for a sign to prove He was the Messiah. But Jesus told them that the only sign He would give was that of the prophet Jonah: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (verse 40).
But how can we fit "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" between a Friday-afternoon crucifixion and a Sunday-morning resurrection? The traditional view of the crucifixion and resurrection allows for Jesus to have been entombed for only a day and a half.
Some try to reconcile Christ's words with their belief in a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection by rationalizing that Christ's "three days and three nights" statement does not require a literal span of 72 hours. They reason that a part of a day can be reckoned as a whole day. Hence, since Jesus died in the afternoon (around "the ninth hour" after daybreak, or about 3 p.m.; Matthew 27:46-50), they think the remainder of Friday constituted the first day, Saturday the second and part of Sunday the third.
However, they fail to take into consideration that only two nights—Friday night and Saturday night—are accounted for in this explanation. After all, the Bible is clear that Jesus had already risen before the daylight portion of Sunday (John 20:1). Something is obviously incorrect with this common conclusion regarding when Christ was in the tomb.
Jonah 1:17, to which Christ referred, states specifically that "Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights." We have no reason to think these days and nights were fractional. Nor is there any basis for thinking that Jesus meant only two nights and one day, plus parts of two days, when He foretold the length of time He would be in the grave. Such rationalization undermines the integrity of Jesus' words.
Was Christ's sign fulfilled?
If Jesus were in the grave only from late Friday afternoon to sometime early Sunday morning, then the sign He gave that He was the prophesied Messiah was not fulfilled. The claim of His Messiahship rests on the fulfillment of His words; it's that serious a matter.
Let us carefully examine the details of those fateful days. Each of the Gospel writers gives an account of the events, but each presents different aspects that need to be correctly synchronized and harmonized to produce a clear sequence and understanding of what happened (see "The Chronology of Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection" ). We will see that, when each account is considered, the chronological details mesh perfectly.
For instance, John 19:31 preserves a crucial point that provides insight into the other narratives. The preparation day on which Jesus was crucified is described as the day before the Sabbath. But John clarifies it by stating that this approaching Sabbath "was a high day." This does not refer to the weekly Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday evening) but to the first day of Unleavened Bread, which is one of God's annual high, or Sabbath, days (Exodus 12:16-17; Leviticus 23:6-7), which could—and usually did—fall on other days of the week.
Some believe that this high day fell that year on the seventh day of the week, making it coincide with the weekly Sabbath, with the preparation day being on Friday. But Luke's account shows that this was not the case. Notice the sequence of events outlined in Luke 23. Jesus' moment of death, as well as His hasty burial because of the oncoming Sabbath, is narrated in verses 46-53. Verse 54 then states, "That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near."
Two Sabbaths mentioned
Many have assumed that it is the weekly Sabbath mentioned here. But this is not the case. Instead, it was a Sabbath that occurred on a Thursday, since verse 56 shows that the women, after seeing Christ's body having been laid in the tomb, "returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils" for the final preparation of the body.
Such work would not have been done on a Sabbath day since it would have been considered a Sabbath violation. This is verified by Mark's account, which states, "Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices [which they would not have purchased on the high-day Sabbath], that they might come and anoint Him" (Mark 16:1).
The women had to wait until this Sabbath was over before they could buy and prepare the spices to be used for anointing Jesus' body. Then, after purchasing and preparing the spices and oils on Friday, "they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56). This second Sabbath mentioned in the Gospel accounts is the regular weekly Sabbath, observed from Friday evening through Saturday evening.
By comparing details in both Gospels—where Mark tells us the women bought spices after the Sabbath and Luke relates that they prepared the spices and then rested on the Sabbath—we can clearly see that two different Sabbaths are mentioned. The first was a "high day" (John 19:31)—the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread—which, in A.D. 31, fell on a Thursday. The second was the weekly seventh-day Sabbath. (See "The Chronology of Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection")
Sign of the Messiah
After the women rested on the regular weekly Sabbath, they went to Jesus' tomb early on the first day of the week (Sunday), "while it was still dark" (John 20:1), and found that He had already been resurrected (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:2-6; Luke 24:1-3). When we allow the Scriptures to interpret themselves, all four Gospel accounts accurately harmonize and attest to the validity of Jesus' promise that He would be in the grave three days and three nights—not just part of that time.
Several Bible translations recognize that more than one Sabbath is discussed in these events. In Matthew 28:1 some Bible versions, including Alfred Marshall's Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, Ferrar Fenton's Translation and Green's Literal Translation, properly translate this phrase as "after the sabbaths." Young's Literal Translation and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (1992, p. 1270) similarly acknowledge that multiple Sabbaths are intended here.
The wording of Mark 16:1-2 is confusing to some because it seems to suggest that the spices were purchased after the weekly Sabbath rather than before it, on Friday. However, this is explained by Luke 23:56, which clearly shows that the women bought the spices before, and not after, the weekly Sabbath, "and they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment." Mark did not mention this weekly Sabbath rest in his account, but Luke, who wrote later, did.
Some also stumble over Mark 16:9, not taking into account that there is no punctuation indicated in the original Greek. Therefore, to be in harmony with the material presented in the other Gospels, a better translation would be: "Now having risen, early the first day of the week He appeared first to Mary Magdalene ..." These verses are not saying that Jesus rose early on Sunday morning, but that He appeared early on Sunday morning to Mary Magdalene, having already risen some time earlier.
When we consider the details in all four Gospel accounts, the picture is clear. Jesus was crucified and entombed late on Wednesday afternoon, just before a Sabbath began at sunset. However, that was a high-day Sabbath, falling on Thursday that week, rather than the weekly Sabbath from Friday evening through Saturday evening. He remained entombed from Wednesday at sunset until Saturday at sunset, when He rose from the dead. Thus, when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb on Sunday morning before sunrise, "while it was still dark," she found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.
We can be assured that the precise duration of Christ's entombment before His resurrection, the "three days and three nights [Jonah was] in the belly of the great fish" (Matthew 12:40), which Jesus gave as proof of His Messiahship, did happen. Jesus rose late Saturday afternoon around sunset—not Sunday at sunrise—which was precisely three days and three nights after He was placed in the tomb just before sunset on Wednesday.
Christ's prophecy of the time He would be in the tomb was fulfilled precisely. Because most people do not understand the biblical high days kept by Jesus Christ and His followers, they fail to understand the chronological details so accurately preserved for us in the Gospels.
A better way
As we have seen, Easter and its customs originated not from the Bible, but in pagan fertility rites. It is a curious mixture of ancient mythological practices and arbitrary dating that obscures and discredits the proof of Jesus Christ's Messiahship and resurrection.
Having learned the sources and backgrounds of two major religious holidays, one might rightly wonder which days, if any, a Christian should observe. After all, the Bible does emphasize that God is to be worshiped by His children (1 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 22:27; 86:9), therefore surely He expects them to observe the days He has set apart.
God in His Word shows a better way of life with better days of worship He has appointed for His people (see "God's Days of Worship").
The Resurrection Connection
How did worship of an ancient god and goddess come to be associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Although the details are lost in time, a closer look at the ancient mythology surrounding their worship will help us understand how pagan practices have survived in popular Easter customs.
Two of the earliest recorded deities were the Babylonian fertility god Tammuz and the goddess Ishtar. Every year Tammuz "was believed to die, passing away from the cheerful earth to the gloomy subterranean world ..." (Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough, 1993, p. 326).
The seasonal cycle came to be connected with Tammuz's supposed annual death and resurrection. "Under the names of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis, the peoples of Egypt and Western Asia represented the yearly decay and revival of life ... which they personified as a god who annually died and rose again from the dead. In name and detail the rites varied from place to place: in substance they were the same" (Frazer, p. 325).
Many of these rites revolved around inducing the return of Tammuz from the dead. One of these ceremonies is recorded in Ezekiel 8:14, where Ezekiel saw in vision an abominable sight: women "weeping for Tammuz" at the very temple of God.
The Expositor's Bible Commentary says regarding this verse: "Tammuz, later linked to Adonis and Aphrodite by name, was a god of fertility and rain ... In the seasonal mythological cycle, he died early in the fall when vegetation withered. His revival, by the wailing of Ishtar, was marked by the buds of spring and the fertility of the land. Such renewal was encouraged and celebrated by licentious fertility festivals ... The women would have been lamenting Tammuz's death. They perhaps were also following the ritual of Ishtar, wailing for the revival of Tammuz" (Vol. VI, 1986, pp. 783-784).
As worship of Tammuz and Ishtar spread to the Mediterranean region, including the territory of biblical Israel, the pair came to be worshiped under other names: Baal and Astarte (Ashtoreth), Attis and Cybele, and Adonis and Aphrodite. God heatedly condemned the sensual, perverted worship of Baal and Astarte (Judges 2:11-15; 3:7-8; 10:6-7; 1 Kings 11:4-6, 31, 33; 16:30-33; 22:51-53).
Pre-Christian customs linked to Christ
In ancient worship we find the mythology that would ultimately link these ancient customs to Christ's death and resurrection. Says Alan Watts: "It would be tedious to describe in detail all that has been handed down to us about the various rites of Tammuz, Adonis, ... and many others, ... But their universal theme–the drama of death and resurrection–makes them the forerunners of the Christian Easter, and thus the first 'Easter services.' As we go on to describe the Christian observance of Easter we shall see how many of its customs and ceremonies resemble these former rites" (Easter: Its Story and Meaning, 1950, p. 58).
Watts describes some of the similarities and parallels: "Shortly before the vernal [spring] equinox ... the members of this cult [of Tammuz-Ishtar, Attis-Cybele and Adonis-Aphrodite] began a fast–as Christians also have the fast of Lent, beginning forty days before Easter."
He tells how some worshipers would cut down a tree, then carry it "with reverence and ceremony to Cybele's temple and set it up in the central sanctuary ..." There, "upon its central stem [trunk], was hung the figure of the young god" (p. 59).
"Here, for the remaining days of the fast, the worshipers gathered to sing hymns of mourning for the dead Attis ... And to this day, on Good Friday at the Veneration of the Cross, Christians sing their hymn of mourning for another and greater one who died on a Tree ..." (Watts, p. 59).
As the fast drew to an end, a remarkable rite took place: "... The figure of the dead Attis was taken down from the tree and buried under the twilight sky. Far into the night his devotees stood around the grave and sang hymns of mourning. But as dawn approached, a great light was kindled, as today Christians light the Paschal Candle on Easter Eve as a symbol of the risen Christ" (Watts, pp. 61-62).
Another author describes the idolatrous worship this way: "... The sorrow of the worshippers was turned to joy ... The tomb was opened: the god had risen from the dead; and as the priest touched the lips of the weeping mourners with balm, he softly whispered in their ears the glad tidings of salvation. The resurrection of the god was hailed by his disciples as a promise that they too would issue triumphant from the corruption of the grave. On the morrow ... the divine resurrection was celebrated with a wild outburst of glee. At Rome, and probably elsewhere, the celebration took the form of a carnival" (Fraser, p. 350).
An ancient celebration adopted
In its various forms, worship of Tammuz-Adonis-Attis spread around the Roman Empire including to Rome itself. As Christianity spread through the empire, religious leaders apparently merged customs and practices associated with this earlier "resurrected" god and applied them to the resurrected Son of God.
"When we reflect how often the Church has skilfully contrived to plant the seeds of the new faith on the old stock of paganism, we may surmise that the Easter celebration of the dead and risen Christ was grafted upon a similar celebration of the dead and risen Adonis ..." (Fraser, p. 345).
In this respect Easter followed the pattern of Christmas in being officially sanctioned and welcomed into the church. "Motives of the same sort may have led the ecclesiastical authorities to assimilate the Easter festival of the death and resurrection of their Lord to the festival of the death and resurrection of another Asiatic god which fell at the same season. Now the Easter rites still observed in Greece, Sicily and southern Italy bear in some respects a striking resemblance to the rites of Adonis, and I have suggested that the Church may have consciously adapted the new festival to its heathen predecessor for the sake of winning souls to Christ" (Frazer, p. 359).
To discover what God thinks of merging customs associated with worship of other gods with worship of Him, be sure to read "Does It Matter to God?".
Fertility Symbols: Beneath the Dignity of God
Because the ability to reproduce is critical for food and preservation of life, mankind has long been intrigued by fertility. Have you ever wondered why eggs and rabbits–the popular hallmarks of Easter–were selected as symbols of fertility?
"In traditional folk religion the egg is a powerful symbol of fertility, purity and rebirth. It is used in magical rituals to promote fertility and restore virility; to look into the future; to bring good weather; to encourage the growth of crops and protect both cattle and children against misfortune, especially the dreaded evil eye. All over the world it represents life and creation, fertility and resurrection ... Later [customs concerning eggs] were linked with Easter. The church did not oppose this, though many egg customs were pre-Christian in origin, because the egg provided a fresh and powerful symbol of the Resurrection and the transformation of death into life" (The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987, p. 37, "Egg").
The Easter rabbit is the modern replacement for "the hare, the symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt" (New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micro-paedia, p. 333, "Easter"). It is no secret that rabbits are extremely prolific. Their does (females) bear several litters of two to eight young each year, and gestation takes about a month. Contrary to God's instruction, these pagan fertility symbols credit divine powers to the creation (rabbits and eggs) instead of the Creator (Romans 1:21-25).
In contrast to pagan celebrations, God promised to bless His people with abundance in return for their love and obedience. Notice Moses' words of encouragement to Israel shortly before his death:
"Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock" (Deuteronomy 7:12-14).
People have the choice of looking to God as their Creator for reproductive blessings or looking to the creation. Given the history of rabbits and eggs as pagan fertility symbols, do you think God is pleased when people include these as symbols of their worship? See "Does It Matter to God?," for the answer.
The Chronology of Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection
Tuesday: Jesus Christ ate an early-evening Passover meal with His disciples (at the beginning of Nisan 14, Jewish reckoning) and instituted the New Covenant symbols (Matthew 26:26-28). Jesus was then betrayed by Judas, arrested and during the night brought before the high priest.
Wednesday: Jesus was crucified and died around 3 p.m. (Matthew 27:46-50). This was the preparation day for the annual, not weekly, Sabbath, which began that evening (Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:31). Jesus' body was placed in the tomb at twilight (Matthew 27:57-60).
Thursday: This was the high-day Sabbath, the first day of Unleavened Bread (John 19:31; Leviticus 23:4-7). It is described as the day after the Day of Preparation (Matthew 27:62).
Friday: The high-day Sabbath now past, the women bought and prepared spices for anointing Jesus' body before resting on the weekly Sabbath day, which began at sunset (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56).
Saturday: The women rested on the weekly Sabbath, according to the Fourth Commandment (Luke 23:56; Exodus 20:8-11). Jesus rose around sunset, exactly three days and three nights (72 hours) after burial, fulfilling the sign of Jonah and authenticating Jesus' Messiahship.
Sunday: The women brought the prepared spices early in the morning while it was still dark (Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Jesus had already risen (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:2-6; Luke 24:2-3; John 20:1). He did not rise on Sunday morning, but at sunset the day before.