The Passion of the Ishtar


It’s Good Friday, which traditionally is considered the day in Holy Week that Jesus goes through and gets tortured and killed. And that’s … good? Yeah, if I was in marketing in the old days, I would have suggested a different name. I wonder what a 1st century focus group would say?

However, as Good Friday comes before Easter Sunday, there is this thing going around:

As Tom Verenna points out, this is pretty much all wrong. ‘Easter’ is not derived from ‘Ishtar’; they aren’t even in the same language family. While eggs and bunnies don’t seem to obviously relate to resurrection, they are symbols of fertility (i.e. breeding like rabbits) and thus the renewal of life. But one of the simplest take-down of this picture was from another version of the same (via Doctor Atlantis):

As it mentions, this is the Burney Relief, and I have seen it in person when it was in Berlin. Of the goddesses it may represent that seem likely to me, there is Ishtar and her evil sister, Ereshkigal. The lions give away someone with power, and the owls suggest to me someone with a connection to the night. However, it is argued the owls relate to Ishtar by connections of the Sumerian word for owl and for Ishtar’s earlier counterpart, Inanna. Some see the figure as a demon because the wings aren’t spread wide, and the background may have been black. However, for this to work it would suggest that Ereshkigal had a cult to her where she took control of Ishtar’s position of power. To me that seems doubtful, and instead the opposite may be the case (though I can’t prove it): Ishtar defeats her sister and finally takes control of the underworld.

Which leads to the connection between Ishtar (Inanna in Sumerian myth) and the Passion of the Christ. In a text from over 3000 years ago, “The Descent of Inanna”, the goddess plans to try to not rule just in the heavens (her title was “Queen of Heaven”), but she also wanted to take control of the underworld from her sister there. She makes plans with her servants, in particular what they should do in case she doesn’t make it back and dies in the process. In the process of Inanna coming into the underworld, she is piece-by-piece stripped of her clothes and royal accessories until naked. She is then before her sister and the Anunnaki (who have nothing to do with aliens!), and under their gaze Inanna dies. Her body is then hung on a nail and remains there dead for three days. After that time, her servant sets the plan into action, sending other beings into the underworld to resurrection Inanna. She is then brought back to the land of the living (a replacement had to be sought though), and she resumes being the Queen of Heaven.

This story with Inanna is taken over by the Babylonians, and the one with Ishtar is pretty much the same. The story includes the fate of Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz. This is probably the oldest myth with the idea of the dying-and-rising god, it may have some relation to the Greek story with Persephone in Hades, and it was known to the Jews (see Ezekiel 8:14-15; Jeremiah 7:18, 44:17-25; the Jewish month of Tammuz comes straight from the god’s name and the Babylonian month named after him). We can see similarities between this story and that of Jesus’ death and resurrection, including a process of shaming, dead for three days, and a return to heaven. While there may not be a direct link between the Ishtar & Tammuz story with that of Jesus, it does seem to be something that gave rise to the idea of gods that undergo a passion, including a death, and then are restored.

The connection may also lay in other symbols. For example, Ishtar is connected to the planet Venus (she is also the ancestor for Aphrodite, who for the Romans is Venus), and in particular at its dawn rising she is the Morning Star… or he actually; the god(dess) would be of a certain gender depending on if seen in the east or west (Ishtar is sometimes given a beard). But I point this out because Jesus is also called the Morning Star (Rev 2: 28, 22:16; 2 Peter 1:19). In particular, it has been noted that in Revelation 22:16, Jesus is called the bring morning star in such a way he is both the bright star and the morning star, implying he is both morning and evening star as was Ishtar.  (See Michael S. Moore, “Jesus Christ:’Superstar’: Revelation XXII 16b)”, Novum Testamentum 24, 1 [1982]: 82-91). So maybe there is more here than we realize.

So while there are plausible connections between this goddess and Jesus, the name Easter, the objects of eggs and rabbits, and the date are just not related. At all. So stop it, or you fail as a skeptic. If you keep this up, you will lose the War on Easter.

This modern vision of Inanna has a lot of her traditional symbols, including lions and the 8-pointed star, along with less traditional objects, such as space ships. And having a goddess of love and war with the face of Angelina Jolie seems rather appropriate.

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2 thoughts on “The Passion of the Ishtar

  1. Pingback: Jesus was King Arthur, and a Pharaoh, and King of Edessa–The “Scholarship” of Ralph Ellis | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars

  2. Pingback: More on Ralph Ellis and his Jesus as King of Edessa | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars

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