Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Where does the word Easter come from?

Perhaps surprisingly the origin of Easter is not biblical.

The word is not in the New Testament. cNor does it feature in most translations of the Bible into vernacular languages. 

  • Romance languages directly link Easter to the Jewish feast of Passover.  Pâques in French covers both Easter and Passover.     
  • There is often more linguistic emphasis on the idea of Holy Week  as  in Semana Santa in Spanish)

So where did the word Easter come from? 

Scholars agree that the word Easter has pre-Christian roots. Beyond that there is little consensus.
The most popular theory is reflected in the entry for Easter in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary:

Old English ēastre, after a Germanic goddess Eostre; related to Old High German ōstarūn Easter, Old Norse austr to the east, Old Slavonic ustru like summer.
According to this explanation, the Old English word eastre came Eostre, "a goddess associated with spring."
Further elaboration is found in a work written in AD 725 by Saint Bede, an English monk and historian. According to Bede, April was called Eosturmonath ("Easter-month") because in pagan times the month was dedicated to Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. 
Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts
When Christian beliefs spread throughout England, says Bede, Easter-month lent its name to the new April festival.

 Spring Festivals?

Another theory is that Eostre was simply the Anglo-Saxon word for spring festivals. Linguists trace this word to roots thousands of years old meaning "shine" and "dawn." Spring is a season of lengthening days and increased light. It would make sense for early peoples to give their spring festivals a name that celebrated the rising sun. Source

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Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies

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