Ishtar was an ancient Mesopotamian goddess of war, fertility, and sex. She is featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the “Ishtar Gate” was part of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Her worship involved animal sacrifices; objects made of her sacred stone, lapis lazuli; and temple prostitution. Some people claim there exists a connection between Ishtar and Easter. A popular meme has been circulating the internet making that very claim. Superimposed over an image of Ishtar are these words: “This is Ishtar: pronounced ‘Easter.’ Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with resurrection?). After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus. But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about celebrating fertility and sex.”
However, there is absolutely no conclusive connection between the pagan goddess Ishtar and the Christian celebration of Easter. Any theory that Easter is named after Ishtar is pure speculation. There is also no proof that Ishtar was ever associated with eggs or rabbits as symbols. In fact, Ishtar’s sacred animal seems to have been the lion.
There are several theories concerning the origin of the word Easter that are more credible than the Ishtar theory. One is that Easter got its name from Eostre, an eighth-century Germanic goddess who (it is assumed) was celebrated around the time of Passover every year. But even this theory has major problems, since there is no real evidence that anyone ever worshiped a goddess named Eostre—we have no shrines dedicated to Eostre, no altars of hers, and no ancient documents mentioning her. Others contend that the word Easter ultimately derives from the Latin phrase in albis, related to alba (“dawn” or “daybreak” in Spanish and Italian). In Old High German, in albis became eostarum, which eventually became Ostern in modern German and Easter in English. The French word for “Easter” is Pâcques, based on the Latin and Greek Pascha, meaning “Passover.”
Even if it could be proved that the word Easter is etymologically related to the name of a pagan goddess such as Ishtar or Eostre, it would not change what the holiday Easter means to us. (The word Wednesday comes from Woden’s Day in honor of the Norse god Woden or Odin—but we don’t usually fret about the word’s pagan origin.) Regardless of where the name Easter came from, Easter itself is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is a critical doctrine of the Christian faith stating definitively that Jesus conquered death and the grave and proved to be the world’s Savior from sin and death. “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).