The Roots of Easter

The Roots of Easter

Have you ever wondered why the Easter Bunny lays eggs?  We have two bunnies and I can assure you they have never laid eggs.  Is the Easter Bunny some sort of hybrid that lays eggs?  I am being cheeky, but only to confess that for about 20 years of my adult life, I never questioned the significance of the Easter Bunny or egg hunts.  Even more egregious, I never questioned why the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection is named after the pagan goddess Eostre.  Have we defiled the most sacred of our Christian holidays by engaging in syncretism?  It’s time to follow the proverbial rabbit hole to get to the bottom of this one.

Harmless Mixture?

In just a few short weeks, millions of Christians will be celebrating what they call “Easter.”  This is the time of year when church staff allocate tremendous time and resources preparing for an increased number of services to reach the bi-yearly church attendees with the gospel message.  Last year, one of the local churches in the Salt Lake Valley advertised “Get your picture with the Easter Bunny.”  What exactly does the Easter Bunny have to do with Jesus?  Before I answer that question, let’s consider the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well.

John 1:7-26  “When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?’

Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’ He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied.

Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’  ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’

‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’

The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you—I am he.’

You may be wondering what this passage has to do with Easter since it is not about the cross or the resurrection.  One of the aspects of God’s Word I enjoy the most is the endless treasures it contains.  While this passage does not directly speak about Jesus’ death and resurrection, we must understand the principles revealed by this encounter to examine the roots of Easter.  So, allow me to connect some dots.

This woman is a Samaritan.  So, who were the Samaritans?  They comprised two groups of people: 1) the remnant of the northern tribes who were not deported into exile in Assyria, and 2) people from Babylon and Media that the Assyrians sent to settle the land.  The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along.  The history of their conflict extends back to the death of King Solomon when the kingdom was divided.

Author, Henri Daniel-Rops, explains the strife between the Jews and the Samaritans in his book Daily Life in the Times of Jesus.  He emphasizes how the “motley people” that were sent by the Assyrians to live in the land of Samaria were instrumental in leading the remnant into syncretism.

“The motley people who had settled in those parts, all heathens by origins, had more or less taken up the beliefs of the Israelites who had remained, but in doing so they had simplified them, particularly in accepting no more than the Pentateuch as Holy Writ.  As they had not been able to go and pray at Jerusalem they had adopted the habit of celebrating their rites in the high places of their country.  When the exiled Jews returned, the Samaritans refused to recognize the religious supremacy of the Judeans, and even declined their request for help in the rebuilding of the Temple.  In Jerusalem people began to say that the Samaritans were people outside the community – excommunicated men… Manasseh…of Samaria, obtained from the master of the world permission to build a temple upon Mount Gerizim that would be a rival to the one at Jerusalem.” (1)

Additionally, when the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity, they did not accept the Samaritans into Judaism because the Samaritans could not prove their lineage.  They had intermarried with the people brought into the land by the Assyrians.  The Samaritans did not worship in Jerusalem, instead, they worshiped at their temple on Mount Gerizim.  This perpetuated the generational iniquity of mixture that the northern tribes engaged in following King Solomon’s death.  The Samaritans had a separate religious system with Scripture that only included the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible).  This led to false doctrines.  This is an important principle – mixture leads to false doctrines. 

During Jesus' day, the Jews and the Samaritans did not interact.  They would go out of their way to avoid each other. For example, a Jew would take the long route to their destination just to avoid passing through Samaria.  I love that Jesus broke down the walls of division between Jews and Samaritans. He went beyond just merely having a conversation with this Samaritan woman - He revealed to her that He is the Messiah. This was the only occasion before his trial, in which He identified himself so clearly as Messiah.

Why did Jesus tell the Samaritan woman to go call her husband?  This request seems out of context; they were just having a conversation about water. Jesus pivoted the conversation to give a word of knowledge by saying she had five husbands and the man she was with was not her husband.  Here is a clue; it’s a hint to a deeper meaning concerning her five husbands. The clue leads us to 2 King 17 which tells of how the northern tribes of Israel were exiled because of their sin and how Samaria was resettled.

2 Kings 17:14-15  “But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”

The Israelites (some of which became the Samaritans) were unfaithful to the Lord; they imitated what the other nations around them did. 

2 Kings 17:29-33 “Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places. The people from Babylon made Sukkoth Benoth, those from Kuthah made Nergal, and those from Hamath made Ashima; the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelek and Anammelek, the gods of Sepharvaim. They worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.” (emphasis mine)

Herein lies the connection to the five husbands. The Samaritans imitated the five national groups that worshiped false gods. These Samaritans were the remnant of the northern tribes who had escaped exile, so their worship of other gods was like adultery. They were unfaithful to their covenant with God just as the woman at the well was unfaithful.

In John 4, Jesus confronted the woman’s promiscuity and called her into true worship.  Jesus said in v22 “You worship what you do not know.”  This accurately describes our culture; most people do not realize what they are worshiping. Think of the myriad of Taylor Swift fans, they worship what they do not know.  Taylor Swift leads her fans straight into false worship, but they cannot see it because they are blinded by the mixture they have allowed in. Mixture leads to false doctrines, false prophecy, false light, false Jesus, and false Holy Spirit.  Christians become double-minded when they allow mixture in their lives.

We must recognize that the Babylonian system still operates today. We have been lured into these world systems that entangle us.  It’s time to remove mixture from our lives. Daniel, Hananiah, Meshael, and Azariah refused to enter into mixture when they arrived in Babylon.  Their desire to remain set apart allowed their worship to be pure.  Tragically, there is mixture in much of our worship because we engage in syncretism.  Syncretism is the practice of mixing belief systems.  Two of the most common forms of syncretism for Christians are Christmas and Easter. These practices allow mixture into our lives and can defile our worship.  Jesus could say of us “you worship what you do not know.”

Worship of a Fertility Goddess

Eostre or Easter is a pagan fertility goddess that is one of the deities assumed by the Queen of Heaven.  English monk, Saint Bede, in his book The Reckoning of Time, first published in the 8th century, wrote: “Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.” (2) Paschal refers to Passover.

In a scholarly analysis of Bede’s work, Carole Cusack writes, “It is undeniable that certain customs practiced by Christians at Easter have more to do with fertility than with the resurrection of Jesus, ostensibly the focus of the season.  The retention of these customs signals modern Paganism’s desire to strip away the Christian overlay from folk practices and to reclaim those practices as Pagan.” (3)  Eostre (a.k.a. Ostara) is similarly worshiped by Christians as pagans which is the epitome of syncretism.  “The gift of coloured eggs to one’s friends and loved ones was a way of wishing them well for the coming season, a magical ritual of prosperity and fecundity.  The rabbit was the symbol of this festival as well because of its re-emergence during this season and for its reproductive ability.” (4)

Jesus was not crucified on Easter.  He is not the Easter sacrifice.  He is the Passover lamb that was crucified on Passover!

I Corinthians 5:7-8 “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (emphasis mine)

John 1:29 “The next day, he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (emphasis mine)

Isaiah 53:7 “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (emphasis mine)

From Passover to Easter

The apostles and the early church celebrated the death and resurrection of the Messiah on Passover not on Easter.  Polycartes, bishop of the Church in Asia, wrote a letter to Victor and the Roman Church regarding Passover.  Eusebius recorded this letter in Ecclesiastical History, (See Figure 1)

Figure 1. Polycartes Epistle to Victor and the Roman Church.

In this letter, Polycartes highlighted the early church leaders who “observe the genuine day” of Passover.  These leaders included Apostle John, Polycarp, Philip (one of the 12 apostles), Thraseas Bishop of Eumenia, and many others.  They kept Passover on the 14th day of Nisan as was consistent with the Gospel.  It was the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) that officially shifted the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection from Passover to Easter.  Two issues were addressed during the Council of Nicaea: the relationship of Jesus to the Father, for which we have the Nicene Creed; and whether Passover or Easter should be celebrated to remember Christ’s death and resurrection.  Emperor Constantine, along with the 300 bishops who gathered in Nicaea, decided that Passover would no longer be celebrated but instead, Easter would commemorate Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The day was to be shifted from the 14th day of Nisan to the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  This, of course, aligned with the pagan fertility celebration.  So, what we think is a harmless blending of holidays is really syncretism.  This type of mixture can defile our worship.

Just as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman “You do not know what you worship,” most Christians do not know they are worshiping a fertility goddess instead of celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Pastors who lead their congregation in “Easter” services are leading their people straight into syncretism.  When pastors make declarations such as, “Every Sunday is Easter around here,” they are effectively dedicating every Sunday service to a fertility goddess.  We must realize that our words are powerful and the enemy is a legalist. 

Proverbs 26:2 “…a curse without a cause will not alight.”

Exodus 20:3 “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

A few simple steps in disentangling yourself from the mixture of syncretism is to repent, change your language, and align your times with God’s appointed times.  Instead of referring to the day as “Easter,” call it “Resurrection Sunday.”  Better yet, call it "Passover" and make the shift to celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection on Passover, Yahweh’s chosen day, and not the day chosen by Constantine.   

Upcoming dates of Passover:

2024 - Monday, April 22

2025 - Saturday, April 12

2026 - Wednesday, April 1

2027 - Wednesday, April 21

Written by Laura Sanger, Ph.D.   


  1. Daniel-Rops, H. (1961). Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. Ann Arbor, MI:  Servant Books.
  2. Wallis, F. (1999). Bede: The Reckoning of Time. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press.
  3. Cusack, C. (2007). The Goddess Eostre: Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s).  The Pomegranate 9.1, 22-40.
  4. Ibid.
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