About the Author

Rev Aaron Eime is the deacon of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East. Aaron studied at the Hebrew University in the Masters Program with the focus towards Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Bible. Aaron also studied Psychology and Sociology at Queensland University in Australia in the Social Work Program. He is a dedicated Bible teacher exploring the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. He has taught Internationally in many countries including Europe, North America, Hong Kong and China. Aaron is the Director of Research and Education at Christ Church. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 3 children.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter, Passover, Ishtar and Myths

Religious Calendars are interesting things. In Jerusalem, we have just celebrated Passover and Easter together. Passover fell on Good Friday and our community gathered at 1pm to remember the Crucifixion and then headed to the Dead Sea to celebrate Passover and the Redemption from Egypt. It does beg the question, however, how does Death and Resurrection, Passover, Deliverance and Redemption go hand in hand with bunnies and eggs? Well, obviously they don’t. There is no connection between Passover and rabbits and there is also no connection between Easter and pagan ritual. Notwithstanding, Easter does have a strong connection to Passover. 

Myths about Easter abound all over the internet and I am bombarded constantly by many well-meaning believing Christians challenging me on the nature of Easter, Holy Week and its supposed pagan roots. Common claims against any celebration of Easter stem from the misconception that Easter is named after a pagan fertility goddess. The common archetypes are Ishtar of the Babylonian pantheon or of the Germanic goddess of Spring called Eostre. This is simply not true but has become ‘the truth’ essentially through repetition. We keep saying it and hearing it so it must be true without anyone challenging and verifying the source. 

Ishtar is indeed a fertility goddess of the Babylonian and Assyrian pantheon. Note that Babylon is in the East in the lands of Iraq and Iran today. The Christian community that resides in the East is the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox community has been there since the first century,  descendants of the first believers in Jesus. In the Orthodox Church, the word used for Easter is not Easter, it’s Pascha. Pascha is the Aramaic of the Hebrew word Pesach (Passover). So the Christians who live in the land where the pagan goddess Ishtar comes from don’t actually call the festival after her at all, they refer to the festival by its Jewish roots, the Pascha or the Passover. 

Meanwhile, over in the West the first recorded written account of the spring goddess Eostre hales from the 8th Century. She has nothing to do with rabbits and/or chocolate eggs, which didn’t start getting sold by Cadbury until the 19th Century. However, people in the Christian world were writing about Pascha/Easter long before then. In the 2nd Century, Melito of Sardis, a Jewish believer and Bishop of the community in Sardis, wrote a defence of Pascha in which he argued for the date of Pascha/Easter to be the 14th of Nisan. That is, he was arguing that Pascha should be celebrated at Passover and not the Sunday following Passover. Nisan, by the way, is the Jewish month in which Passover falls and it really is named after a Babylonian god. Interestingly, the majority of the current Jewish calendar is named after Babylonian gods and the Rabbis don’t seem to mind at all. Perhaps we should learn something from the Rabbis on this one. 

Let’s be absolutely clear: Easter is only called Easter in two languages, English and German. Most other languages call the season of Easter after Pascha or Passover. For example, in French, you say Påques, in Dutch its Pasen, in Indonesian its Paskah etc. Even in Latin, the traditional language of the Catholic Church, Easter is called Pascha. That’s right, the Catholic Church actually does not call Easter - Easter. It’s called Pascha and therefore obviously not named after a pagan god of any sort. Rather, like most languages, it is named after the original Hebrew and Aramaic. 

Easter comes from the old German root word for East or Spring. Austria is called in German Østerreich, the East land or Spring land. The festival season of Passover became known as Eastertide, and the word Easter enters our language. Easter is an eight-day holiday from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday. Why eight days? This tradition we inherit from the Jewish People who have eight-day festivals like Succot, Hanukkah and Feast of Unleavened Bread. The tradition of celebrating the life of the Messiah and His passion for eight days was given to us by the early Jewish Believers in Jesus and it had nothing to do with a pagan god. The Orthodox Churches mark their calendars to ensure that Resurrection Sunday does not fall before Passover. 

Without Passover, Easter makes absolutely no sense. Without the death of the Messiah you cannot have a resurrection, and without a resurrection, you cannot have the Gospel. The Gospel can be stated in one sentence - Messiah rose from the dead. And that is indeed very Good News. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

In the Beginning ... God so Loved the World

There are a few verses in the Bible that we all know by heart. When someone says, ‘In the Beginning …’ most of us know to immediately finish the sentence, ‘… God made the Heavens and the Earth.’ There is so much, and more, in that first verse of Genesis 1 that has occupied philosophers, theologians and scientists for thousands of years. 

God makes the world and He calls it good. He is pleased with what He made, and He loves His Creation. Jesus reminds us that we are more blessed to give than to receive and the best way to love is to give. God gives the most and no one can outgive God. To lay down your life for your friends is the greatest act of love and giving. The Gospel of John says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only son … for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.’ Note here that it’s not just that He loved the people on the world. God does indeed love the people and whoever believes in Him is not condemned. Jesus is most definitely all about saving people. Note though, that God also actually loved ‘the world’ and He still does. And why not, He created it, He called it good so it must be good.  He loves His Creation and it is worth redeeming. God loves both the World and Man. Rabbinical commentaries on Genesis note that God made the World and wanted to give the world to Man. Man was to be the final inheritor of the World. God wanted to bless Man with the World and to dwell with him and walk with him in the cool of the evening. Jesus says in Matthew 5 that the meek inherit the Earth. Note that we don’t inherit Heaven, we inherit the Earth. Too often in Christianity, we restrict our focus on getting into Heaven. Yet Jesus tells us that our final destination is actually Earth. Eventually, we see in the Revelation to John, the heavenly Jerusalem takes its place on the Earth and Man will dwell with God in the world as was originally intended. 

When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, the world was cursed. Adam was cursed, as was Eve and the snake and so was the world. As it is written, ‘Cursed is the ground’. Yet it was not the world’s fault that Adam ate the fruit and yet it received a curse because of the actions of Man. In Jewish tradition the earth is alive. Let’s be clear, the earth is not a god, but like the animals are alive, the World itself is also alive. Paul reminds us that the earth itself is groaning for its redemption. This verse in the New Testament makes no sense if Creation is purely inanimate. Accordingly then, the world is also looking forward to the Messiah as much as Man is. It is as if the voice of the earth says to Man, ‘You like the colours of my flowers now? Well, you wait till you see colour when the Messiah is here! You like the taste of my fruit now? Well, you wait till you taste fruit when the Messiah is here!’ The world isn’t destroyed with the return of the Messiah, it is renewed and prepared for the Messiah to rule and reign. There is a difference between destruction and renewal. 

According to Jewish tradition, the earth is quite conscious of sin and reacts to the sin on top of it. We read in Leviticus 18vs24-28 that God warns His people (and us) that if they continue to sin/defile the land, the very ground itself will vomit them out. Note that the text says that God won’t do the vomiting, the earth will. The ground, or the World, is reacting to the behaviour of Man on top of it. We can see that happen throughout human history. War, devastation and lack of love affect the environment. There is a change in the very ecosystem. When we fight and tear each other apart, like in Syria, or behave with the madness and cruelness of the dictator of Zimbabwe when love ceases to be shown among men and grows cold. Then often we see the result, that the earth stops producing food, the rain decreases and the animals leave. No one harvests the ground, digs wells or tends the earth. The ground becomes barren with the ecosystem in ruins. In essence, the earth attempts to get the human defilers away from it. Indeed humans do flee and become a torrent of refugees leaving the devastation behind them. We have no one to blame but ourselves for this. Conversely, when we fulfil the command of the Messiah to love as He has loved, when we dominate the earth with our joy and peace instead of pain and hatred, when we apply ourselves to working the earth and healing the land, we find the earth fruitful and are blessed by its abundance. Part of the call of our discipleship is faithful stewardship over Creation. The world that God loves reacts to our behaviour. God made the World and He so loved the World. As followers of Jesus, we should love the World as He does, for this is our inheritance.