|Is Easter a pagan holiday?|
A recent letter-writer suggested an item on the subject of Easter as a pagan holiday. Notice that I do not say "alleged". Some caution is due here as there is little to disagree with in terms of certain aspects of what we call "Easter" being of non-Christian origin (eggs, wabbits, etc.); where the line must be drawn is in the allegation that the elements of what we call "Easter" associated with the Resurrection of Christ are also tied to pagan origins.
To explore this premise I went out and checked for some websites alleging such borrowing. The first I came to was from the folks at religioustolerance.org. I offer this as an informative but somewhat misguided look at the situation.
Their point about most pagans having a holiday at the Spring Equinox raises the question of whether Resurrection Day, and by extension the Passover holiday, was itself one of these pagan festivals originally. Skeptics might want to say so, but there's a point to consider.
The largest danger in the ancient world for the Israelites was idolatry. Now consider this situation: Everyone else around them was celebrating at the Spring Equinox, doing all the usual orgiastic things. Now as a parallel, if you are in a business, and your rival business is having a big sale on April 10, how might you get something out of that and also deflect your rival's success? The answer: Hold an even bigger sale the same day. And that's the "why" of Passover being scheduled on the Spring Equinox (and by this I also mean that God intended it that way when He timed the plagues of Egypt). The Israelites could hardly occupy themselves with joining in with the pagans if they had their own festival to celebrate.
That's a better explanation than trying to foist "pagan" interpretations on the Passover rites. Liberal scholars variously and creatively speculate that Passover was rooted in an otherwise unattested ancient Jewish custom of slapping blood on tent posts to protect the flock and the well-being of the people from roving demons, and add that the Exodus itself may have been a rework of seasonal "cattle drives" [!], but ultimately admit that the particular elements of Passover and their origin remain enigmatic.
The tolerance folks offer a few other bugs. They try to relate the Resurrection to Attis (see here for response -- this is also cited by several other sites, along with other figures we have covered like Dionysus); they also have the usual bit about alleged chronology problems with Jesus' date of death (see here) but little else to object to.
The only other connection I have seen attempted is to connect the idea of a "sunrise service" with the pagan welcoming of the sun, but clearly the Resurrection had to occur at some time of day, and from the Gospel records it seems that it took place before the sun was up, which makes for a less than adequate match.
So in short, this is one bunny that doesn't hop.