Book coverSanta Header

Chapter 4

Additional Historical Facts about Easter

Easter began long before the time of Christ. Easter was the Ishtar celebration. Ishtar, Astarte, Ashtoreth were all the same. Under various names, a single pagan goddess was worshiped in different countries. As we trace the historical background of this goddess, we can see where Easter got its name, how our modern practice of sunrise worship originated, and why it is always commemorated at a certain time each spring. The story of Easter also helps explain how Sunday sacredness began and the origin of virgin worship.

In the following quotations, you will learn that, centuries before the birth of Christ, Satan encouraged men in religious beliefs and practices which imitated the coming Saviour’s resurrection, and prepared the world for the religious apostasy which would occur after the time of Christ. Here you will find a pagan god described, who was resurrected each spring on "Easter," a day which was dedicated to Ishtar, the mother goddess; she was also called the Queen of Heaven who interceded with the gods on behalf of mankind.

This mother goddess was variously known as Astarte, Ishtar, Ashtoreth, Cybele, Demeter, Ceres, Aphrodite, Venus, and Freya.

"Astarte was the most important goddess of the pagan Semites. She was the goddess of love, fertility, and maternity for the Phonicians, Canaanites, Aramaeans, South Arabs, and even the Egyptians. Her name was Ishtar in Babylonia and Assyria, where she was also the goddess of war. Some Old Testament stories call her Ashtoreth, and describe the construction of her altar by King Solomon and its destruction by King Josiah. Astarte was identified with the planet Venus. The Greeks called her Aphrodite, and the Romans knew her as Venus."—World Book, Vol. 1, 782.

ASTARTE IN PHOENICA—Astarte was the goddess of the ancient Phoenicians. She loved Adoni (Adonis), who was slain by a boar (a wild pig), but rose from the dead and then ascended to heaven in the sight of his worshipers.

Astarte in Syria—In Syria, Astarte was the Great Mother goddess and queen of prostitutes. Her worship culminated at the vernal equinox. This is about March 21 of each year, when the day and night are of equal length; we today call it the first day of spring. The well-known historian, Will Durant, explains how her lover was celebrated with sexual orgies, by the pagans, on March 21:

"Religious prostitution flourished, for in Syria, as throughout western Asia, the fertility of the soil was symbolized in a Great Mother, or goddess, whose sexual commerce with her lover gave the hint to all the reproductive processes and energies of nature; and the sacrifice of virginity at the temples was not only an offering to Astarte, but a participation with her in that annual self-abandonment which, it was hoped, would offer an irresistible suggestion to the earth, and insure the increase of plants, animals, and men.

"About the time of the vernal equinox, the festival of the Syrian Astarte, like that of Cybele in Phrygia, was celebrated at Hierapolis with a fervor bordering upon madness. The noise of flutes and drums mingled with the wailing of the women for Astarte’s dead lord, Adoni; eunuch priests danced wildly, and slashed themselves with knives . . Then in the dark of the night, the priests brought a mystic illumination to the scene, opened the tomb of the young god, and announced triumphantly that Adoni, the lord, had risen from the dead. Touching the lips of the worshipers with balm, the priests whispered to them the promise that they, too, would some day rise from the grave."—Will Durant, History of Civilization, Vol. 1, 296-297.

Ashtoreth in Israel—The Israelites referred to Astarte as "Ashtoreth." In the Bible, the prophets of God denounced the worship of Ashtoreth, but many of the people worshiped her and her consort, Baal, the sun god. This worship was done amid groves of trees, on the summits of mountains. Here they worshiped sacred stones, practiced divination, and engaged in orgies as part of their worship of Ashtoreth and Baal. Because the myth of Astarte included the idea of a resurrected sun god, the sacred grove worship was carried on at daybreak as the sun was coming up.

The northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria) was destroyed because of such idolary. Later, King Josiah of Judah marched through it and tore down the altars to Baal, ‘and them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets.’ He ‘defiled Topheth . . that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech’; and he smashed the altars that Solomon had built for Chemosh, Milcom, and Astarte (see 2 Kgs 23:2, 4, 10, 13).

Ishtar in Sumeria and Babylonia—Ishtar was the love goddess of the Babylonians. Her worship came down from earliest times in Sumeria, where her lover was Tammuz. She was the goddess of mothers and prostitutes, and of love and war.

"Though her worshipers repeatedly addressed her as ‘The Virgin,’ ‘The Holy Virgin,’ and The Virgin Mother,’ this merely meant that her amours were free from all taint of wedlock."—Will Durant, History of Civilization, Vol. 1, 235.

Ishtar was said to be the daughter of Sin, the moon god. Her lover was Tammuz, the sun god. She was called the "Queen of Heaven" by her worshipers and their priests. According to the ancient myth, when Tammuz was slain by a wild animal, Ishtar raises him to life. Because of this, a yearly spring festival was held in honor of Ishtar, the mother goddess.

"[This is the] myth of Ishtar and Tammuz. In the Sumerian form of the tale, Tammuz is Ishtar’s younger brother; in the Babylonian form, he is sometimes her lover, sometimes her son; both forms seem to have entered into the myths of Venus and Adonis, Demeter and Persephone, and a hundred scattered legends of death and resurrection . . To the Babylonians it was sacred history, faithfully believed and annually commemorated by mourning and wailing for the dead Tammuz, followed by riotous rejoicing over his resurrection."—Ibid., 238-239.

ISHTAR IN Sumeria—Even earlier in history, the Sumerians worshiped Innini, or Ishtar. Here is Durant’s description of this mother goddess, who interceded for men with the gods.

"[The city] Uruk worshiped especially the virgin earth goddess Innini, known to the Semites of Akkad as Ishtar—the loose and versatile Aphrodite-Demeter of the Near East. Kish and Lagash worshiped a Mater Dolorsa, the sorrowful mother-goddess, Ninkarsag, who, grieved with the unhappiness of men, interceded for them with the sterner deities."—Ibid., 127.

Cybele in Phrygia—The myths surrounding Cybele were so much like those of Greece, that the Greeks called their goddess, Rhea Cybele, and considered the two divinities one. In Greece, her temple was at Athens. As usual, she resurrected her lover, Attis, each spring at the vernal equinox.

Demeter in Greece—Throughout the Near East, this mother goddess was variously known as Astarte, Ishtar, Ashtoreth, Cybele, Demeter, Ceres, Aphrodite, Venus, and Freya.

She had a special lover (sometimes called her son; and, in one case, her daughter). Thus, for example, we have Isis and Horus, the sun god (Osiris was the son), in Egypt (in later Egypt, Osiris was called Serapis); Ishtar and Tammuz, in Babylon and Sumeria; Cybele and Attis, in Phrygia; Aphrodite and Adonis, in Syria; Atys and Bendis, in Asia; and Anaita and Haoma (later called Mithra), in Persia.

She also had a special son (who was sometimes the same as his father). So we have Isis and Osiris, in Egypt; Ishtar and Tammuz, in Babylonia; Astarte and Adonis, in Syria; Demeter and Persephone (and daughter), in Greece; and Cybele and Attis, in Phrygia.

In Greece, she is called Demeter; and she obtained the yearly resurrection, each spring, of her daugher (not a son in this instance), Persephone.

"Essentially it [the myth of Demeter and Persephone] was the same myth as that of Isis and Osiris, in Egypt; Tammuz and Ishtar, in Babylonia; Astarte and Adonis, in Syria; Cybele and Attis, in Phrygia. The cult of motherhood survived through classical times to take new life in the worship of Mary, the mother of God."—Will Durant, History of Civilization, Vol. 2, 178.

Artemis in Ionia—Ephesus was the major city of Ionia; and its temple of Artemis (called Diana in Acts 19) was famous, for it was the largest Greek temple ever built.

Ceres, in Poseidonia—The temple of Ceres stood on the site of an earlier temple to Poseidon. Here Ceres was venerated.

Venus of the Romans—Venus (also called Aphrodite) was equivalent to the earth fertility and love goddess of the other Near Eastern nations. According to some stories, her son was Aeneas, the ancestor of the Romans; according to others, Cupid. In Rome, every month was dedicated to a god, and April belonged to Venus. She was worshiped as the Mother goddess of their race, since they were supposed to be descended from her through Aeneas. Later, they dedicated their days to gods and borrowed, from the Persians, the sacred sun god, Mithra, on that day.

Anaita AND MITHRA of Persia—As we pass down through time, we come to Persia and the goddess Anaita—the love, or earth, goddess. Their chief god was the sun god, Ahura-Mazda, who later became known as Mithra (also called Mithras). Under the name, Mithra, he became the most important god in Rome before Christianity won out.

"For a while, under Darius II [521-486], it [the worship of Ahura-Mazda] became the spiritual expression of a nation at its height . . Underneath the official worship of Ahura-Mazda, the cult of Mithra and Anaita—god of the sun and goddess of vegetation and fertility, generation and sex—continued to find devotees; and in the days of Artaxeres II [404-359 B.C.] their names began to appear again in the royal inscriptions. Thereafter Mithra grew powerfully in favor and Ahura-Mazda faded away until, in the first centuries of our era, the cult of Mithra as a divine youth of beautiful countenance—with a radiant halo over his head as a symbol of his ancient identity with the sun—spread throughout the Roman Empire, and shared in giving Christmas to Christianity [footnote on the same page]. Christmas was originally a solar festival, celebrating, at the winter solstice, the lengthening of the day and the triumph of the sun over his enemies. It became a Mithraic, and finally a Christian, holy day."—Will Durant, History of Civilization, Vol. 1, 372.

The leading gods of ancient Persia were Mithra, the sun god; Anaita, the nature goddess; and her lover Haoma, who rose to life again. Later, the dying-rising Haoma became transformed into the dying-rising Mithra, the saviour god who, in the hands of Satan, became the chief counterfeit of Christianity in the Roman Empire after the time of Christ. Mithra worship was a carefully contrived counterfeit of Christianity, which Satan suggested to the minds of men over the centuries.

But then, in the fourth century A.D., when Christianity won over Mithraism, Mithraic and Ishtar elements of worship were incorporated into Christian worship also.

Mithra was always shown with a solar halo around his head; so portraits and statues of Christ, Mary, and the saints also had halos around their heads.

Because worshipers of Ishtar presented her with two fertility symbols—eggs and bunny rabbits—these became part of the Christian Easter service.

Because sunrise on Sunday morning, at the beginning of spring, was next to December 25th, the holiest day in the Mithraic calendar, the practice of Easter sunrise services continued on into Christianity.

Because Mithra was worshiped on the first day of the week, which the Persians and Romans called the sun day, Sunday sacredness—which is nowhere to be found in the Bible—came into the Christian church.

Because Mithra, the sun, "died and rose to life" each year on December 25 (when the sun became lowest in the sky), the birth of Christ began to be celebrated on that date (although it is clear from facts in the Bible that He was born in the fall of that year).

Because the Istar (Astarte, Astoreth, etc.) celebration was held each spring on a Sunday, close to the vernal equinox, the ascension of Christ was changed from 40 days after the time of Passover (as told us in the Bible) to the annual Easter celebration.

All this began centuries before in paganism, with the Ishtar and Tammuz legend.


We have carefully considered what ancient, secular historical records reveal. Here are facts from another ancient historical record, the Bible:

At the beginning of earth’s history, God created the entire world in six days and rested on the seventh day and sanctified it, setting it apart as a special day for men to worship Him on (Gen 2:1-3). This is God’s own day to worship Him on.

Jesus Christ created all things (Col 1:16, John 1:3, Heb 1:2); and He calls Himself the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8, Mark 2:28). It is His day—the Lord’s day (Rev 1:10).

He made it for man—all mankind—(Mark 2:27), not just for the Jewish race. God gave the Sabbath at the foundation of the world (Gen 2:1-3); and His followers kept it before it was given on Mount Sinai (Ex 16). On Mount Sinai He spoke and wrote His law, so that all the world might more clearly know it (Ex 20:8-11). In the fourth commandment, we find the seal of the law and the sign that He is our Creator (Ex 20:11) and our Redeemer (Eze 20:12) and that we belong to Him (Eze 20:20).

Jerusalem was destroyed and His people were led into captivity because they were so proned to idolatry and refused to obey Him and keep His Sabbath (Jer 26:1-6, 52:1-13).

While here on earth, Jesus gave a careful example of obedience to the Sabbath day which He had given mankind (Luke 4:16) and rebuked man-made changes in His laws (Matt 15:9, 6). He magnified the law and made it honorable (Matt 5:17-18).

Just before His death He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem thirty-nine years later, in A.D. 70, and at the end of the world (Matt 24). He also cautioned His followers to continue to carefully observe the Sabbath even when those terrible events should come to pass years, and even centuries, later (Matt 24:20).

He carefully instructed His disciples to keep His day holy; and He wanted them to "remember the Sabbath day" (Ex 20:8) long after He had returned to Heaven. His followers faithfully kept it after His death (Luke 23:56) and later in their missionary work (Acts 13:14-16, 40-46;16:12-15; 17:1-4). They declared that we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). And Paul could sincerely say of himself and his follow believers: "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea we establish the law" (Rom 3:31). The Word of God was being fulfilled in order that the Gentiles would one day faithfully keep the Sabbath that the Jews were desecrating (Isa 56:3-7).

The Bible predicted that a great desolating power was to arise in later centuries that would seek to destroy the atonement and God’s laws from among His people (Dan 7:8, 20-21, 25; 8:9-12).

The attempt, by this power, to change God’s laws, and especially His law regarding time, was specifically predicted in Daniel 7:25. Only God can change the law, and so Paul predicted the rise of a man who would call himself God (2 Thess 2:3-4). With boldness this power would sit in the temple of God and call itself God (2 Thess 2:4) and boastfully admit what it had done, declaring it to be a mark of its authority—and, indeed, is it not? You see, it’s like this: I acknowledge and honor God’s authority when I obey His commands and encourage others to do so. I declare my independence of God when I set aside His law and refuse to keep it. But I set myself up as a rival god when, having set aside His law, I establish in its place a counterfeit and then require others to keep it in place of the law that God commanded!

"Whom ye obey, his servants ye are" (Rom 6:16). God’s Word declares that obedience to this man-made god, by keeping his counterfeit day of worship (while knowing that there is not one word or hint in all the Scriptures to keep that false day in place of the true Sabbath) will soon bring upon oneself the Mark of the Beast (Rev 13:16-17, 14:6-12). Only the remnant who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus at that time resist it (Rev 13:8, 14:6-12, 12:17). In fact, the Bible predicts a return to the true Sabbath. God’s people will rebuild the torn-out place in the law of God by again keeping His true Sabbath (Isa 58:13-14). And thank God, the assuring prophecy is given that the saved of all ages will one day soon honor the holy Sabbath of God throughout all eternity in the new earth (Isa 66:22-23).

Sunday is never called sacred or holy anywhere in the Bible. It is never called the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day. Sunday is only mentioned eight times in the Bible. The first time is Genesis 1:5, where the first day of creation week is spoken of. The next five times refer to Jesus’ appearances, on Sunday, to His disciples after His rest in the tomb on the Sabbath (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1-2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 18-19). Jesus went and found them and told them the good news that He was alive. There is nothing here about Sunday sacredness. The seventh time is in Acts 20:7-8, where Paul speaks to the Ephesian leaders. A few verses later (Acts 20:15-38), he speaks to another group in the middle of the week, but that doesn’t make that day anymore sacred than the Sunday preceding it. For only a direct command of God can make a day holy. Repeatedly in Acts, Paul kept the Sabbath holy (Acts 13:14-16, 40-46; 16:12-15; 17:1-4) just as his Master had done before Him. Acts is as silent on Sunday sanctity as is Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The eighth and last text is found in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, where Paul instructs the believers to do their bookkeeping at home on Sunday mornings. The first working day of the week was a good day for this, since Friday they were so busy preparing for the Sabbath.

—But what about the "Lord’s Day"? John the Revelator saw Christ in vision on the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10). What day was that? The Bible does not say it was Sunday; but, from statements elsewhere in the Bible, we can know what day it was.

The "Lord’s Day," both in Greek as well as English, means "the Day of the Lord." The Sabbath is the day unto the Lord (Ex 20:10, Lev 23:3, Deut 5:14), His own day (Isa 58:13). Jesus is the Creator who gave us the Sabbath" (Eph 3:9, John 1:3, Col 1:16, Heb 1-2, Gen 2:1-3). John heard Him call Himself, "the LORD of the Sabbath day" (Matt 12:8, Mark 2:28). John well-knew which day was the Lord’s Day. This day is the memorial day of the Creator (Gen 2:1-3, Ex 31:17), the memorial day of the Redeemer (Eze 20:12, 20). It is the Lord’s Day . . a day that God wants to share with you. He plans to keep it with you throughout all eternity to come (Isa 66:22-23). Come, worship Him on the best day—His day—the only day of worship your God ever gave you.

For much more information on how a variety of pagan customs came into the Christian church in the first three centuries, read our book, Mark of the Beast.

"Little by little, at first in stealth and silence and then more openly as it increased in strength and gained control of the minds of men, ‘the mystery of iniquity’ carried forward its deceptive and blasphemous work.

"Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and conformity was restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions which the church endured under paganism.

"But as persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles for the pomp and pride of pagan priests and rulers; and in place of the requirements of God, she substituted human theories and traditions.

"The nominal conversion of Constantine, in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church.

"Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror . . and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ." —Great Controversy, 49-50

"The religion which is current in our day is not of the pure and holy character that marked the Christian faith in the days of Christ and His apostles. It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is so little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world." —Great Controversy, 48