Easter Day 


The Case Against Easter First Month
Once a Year New Moon
The Solar Circuit Luminaries
Metonic Cycle Hillel II
Wild Card The Talmud
Moses Sunday
What's in a Name

The Case Against Easter

"The truth is that Easter has nothing whatsoever to do with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"We also know that Easter can be as much as three weeks away from the Passover, because the pagan holiday is always set as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

[...] "These customs of Easter honor Baal, who is also Satan, and is still worshipped as the 'Rising Sun' and his house is the 'House of the Rising Sun.'

"How many churches have 'sunrise services' on Ishtar's day and face the rising sun in the East?"
(David J. Meyer, Last Trumpet Ministries)

The Council of Nicaea devised a protocol for computing the date of Easter, controlling the start of the new year by the vernal equinox. They accused the Rabbis then in control of the Jewish calendar of allowing the passover to occur twice during the same solar year, which does not meet Biblical norms. Their prescription for preventing this malady was to force the passover to occur after the equinox. But don't the pagans just love the vernal equinox! Ergo, Easter is pagan.

There can be no doubt that the infiltration of pagan customs was a very serious and accelerating problem for the church of Constantine's day. Acculturation is an issue at all periods, and modern critics point out that the aggressive individualism of modern American life is somewhat in tension with the church's self-understanding as the body of Christ. The world into which the first gospel proclamation went forth was unreconstructed pagan, and in some cases, Christians who ought to have known better compromised with the culture they found around them. For instance, there was a very old story about warfare in heaven: "Armed with these weapons the gods overcame the Titans, shut them up in Tartarus, and appointed the Hundred-handers their guards. . ." (Apollodorus, The Library, I. II. 1-2, p. 11 Loeb). Instead of dismissing these pagan fables they tried to correlate them with information from their new tradition. Thus many in the early church found room for these fables by making the pagan gods into fallen angels, a combo theological view-point which ended up in the beautiful, but unbiblical, music of John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.' It would have been better not to take this tack, but the pagans would not listen to the prophets' denunciations of their gods as non-entities. When the Nicene bishops tethered Easter to the vernal equinox, was this just another case of pagans being pagans? Or is that a bum rap?



LogoFirst Month

The Lord instructed His people to observe a yearly commemoration, of His great act of liberation:




  • “On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight [Heb. between the two evenings] is the Lord’s Passover.”
  • (Leviticus 23:5 NRSV).


  • “In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover.”
  • (Leviticus 23:5 KJV).




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That's clear enough. Or is it? What is the "first month?"The first month of the new year, presumably. The very same month in which the Lord said to Moses and Aaron,

And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you." (Exodus 12:1-2).

What does it mean to say, 'this month?' In what sense do the same months recur every year? And what is a 'year?' The children of Israel received divine help at the first commemoration,

"And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season. In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it." (Numbers 9:1-3).

But after that they were on their own. The passover was commanded as a perpetual observance:




  • Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.
  • Deuteronomy 16:1-2).



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The passover was not suspended or abrogated in the new dispensation, but rather invested with dramatically new content. The Lord's final passover observance with His apostles was the 'Last Supper,' whereupon He, the true Lamb, was taken and slain, and then rose again. Counting the day as running from evening to evening, He was crucified on this same day, the day of the passover supper. This is why Christians took an interest.

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Once a Year

Specifically, the festivals were enjoined upon Israel to be kept once every year. Notice the instruction to observe a feast three times "in a year:"

"Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year. Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:) And the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field." (Exodus 23:14-16).

"Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel." (Exodus 34:23).

This concern, which would later be expressed by the church, is Biblically legitimate: the festivals are to be celebrated once in a year, not twice. The church accused the synagogue of potentially celebrating passover twice during the same (solar) year: not twice during the same calendrical year, as the Jews reckoned the years, but twice during the same circuit of the sun, which is nature's, and God's, year. This can indeed happen with the Babylonian system used by the Jews, because you have two short years, then a long one. This is a valid, if picky, concern.

Take year one; let us say passover, 14 Nisan, occurs the day after the vernal equinox. This year is a short year with no intercalated month; therefore the next passover occurs just 354 days later. Now the vernal equinox occurs ten days after passover: you have celebrated passover twice during the same year. Who says it's the same year? The sun, and his verdict is decisive when we are talking a 'year,' which is the time elapsed during the sun's apparent trek along the ecliptic, or its real orbit through space around the sun. The Sanhedrin may have voted and declared their liking for the Babylonian solar/lunar calendar, but the sun voted them down.

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New Moon

The 'months' of the Bible are natural months, running from when the new moon first becomes visible up until the next such occasion. This event was to be specially observed, with a trumpet blast:

"Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God." (Numbers 10:10).

"And in the beginnings of your months ye shall offer a burnt offering unto the LORD; two young bullocks, and one ram, seven lambs of the first year without spot;. . ." (Numbers 28:11).

"Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day." (Psalm 81:3).

Originally testimony was taken from observers to ascertain the appearance of the new moon, but in time this custom was abandoned. Though the length of the month is not constant, the variation is neither random nor unpredictable.

An uncorrected lunar calendar is 354 days long, which is, as it happens, too short. A 'year' of twelve months exactly will see the festivals wobbling all through the year, with the harvest festival being celebrated during the time of planting, or in the middle of winter, or whenever. The Muslims suffer under just such an uncorrected lunar regime:

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The Solar Circuit

Just as a month is a natural occurrence, so is a year. The lazy observer laying on his back and noticing where and when the sun rises, how high this luminary climbs (apparently) into the sky at the noon-time zenith, and where and when he sets, will notice an eternal recurrence. The year has a beginning and an end:

"But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year." (Deuteronomy 11:11-12).

Where the sun started,— wherever one places the start-point,— is where it also will end up:



  • “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
  • “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”

  • (Ecclesiastes 1:4-5).



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There was never a time when any agricultural people has been unaware of this great cycle; their lives depend upon it. There was an entry-way to the temple at Jerusalem oriented toward the east:

"Thus saith the Lord GOD; The gate of the inner court that looketh toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the sabbath it shall be opened, and in the day of the new moon it shall be opened." (Ezekiel 46:1).

Once a year the sun will shine through that entrance upon the very same spot; it's just an inevitable natural fact. The solar year is wondrously consistent. As we shall see, any lunar calendar which relies upon intercalation to 'catch up' with the solar year will result in years of unequal length, short years and long years, because some years are inevitably longer than others under this system, an inconsistency of which the solar time-piece is guiltless. Each solar year is of the same length.

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LogoLuminaries

It was no desperate human improvisation, but God's very intent in creation, that the luminaries should serve for time-keepers:



  • “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
    And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
  • “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
  • “And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
    And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.”

  • (Genesis 1:14-18).



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Though it is undeniable there are pagan peoples who worship the sun, the moon, and the remainder of hosts of heaven, those who use these lights for time-keepers are doing no more and no less than tasking them with their appointed service.

One cannot, in practical fact, tell time without recourse to one pagan deity or another, because the sun is a pagan god, and the moon is also. So are the 'hours,' for that matter, not to mention the 'dawn.' But aside from their 'off-hours' duties as pagan deities, these luminaries were given to man for time-keeping: "...and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years..." (Genesis 1:14). Where is the offense in using them for their intended purpose? Should Christians refrain from telling time, because the pagans have already occupied that ground? We might as well shiver in the cold, because the Persian Magi worship fire.

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Metonic Cycle

How simple life would be if twelve lunar months equalled just exactly one solar year! Certainly twelve is about right: "And Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, which provided victuals for the king and his household: each man his month in a year made provision." (1 Kings 4:7). However, as the redoubtable pagan Julius Caesar realized, the solar year is approximately 365-1/4 days long. But twelve lunar months make up only 354 days. For that matter, mightn't it be nice if the solar year could be evenly divided into seven-day weeks, as the sectarians who compiled the Dead Sea scriptures insisted it was. That makes 364 days, a nice round number but unfortunately 'off' by a day and a quarter. Is there any larger cycle in which the month count comes out even with the year count, with no fractional remainder?

In the fifth century B.C. the Greek astronomer Meton noticed that a period of nineteen years equals, very nearly, 235 lunar months. However his discovery was already known. This Metonic cycle is the basis for the ancient Babylonian calendar, which was adopted by the Jews. Intercalating an 'extra' month into the year seven times during the nineteen years will even out these two running time-pieces, the moon and the sun.

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LogoHillel II

After the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., there was thenceforth no assembly corresponding to the Biblical Sanhedrin, Moses' assembly of seventy elders: "And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee." (Numbers 11:16). Human ingenuity is such, however, that the Sanhedrin was reconstituted in a different locale, this time under human rather than divine direction, its president named a 'Patriarch.' This institution gradually declined until the distinguished occupant of the waning years of this office, Hillel II, decided to close up shop, and in so doing, gave away the 'secret sauce:' the calendrical system they had used:

"The miserable condition of Judaea was the occasion of an act of self-renunciation on the part of the Patriarch Hillel, which has not yet been thoroughly appreciated. The custom had prevailed up till now of keeping secret the computation of the new moon and the leap year, and of making known the times of the festivals to the communities in the neighboring lands by announcing them by messengers. . .In order to put a stop to all difficulty and uncertainty, Hillel II introduced a final and fixed calendar; that is to say he placed at every one's disposal the means of establishing the rules which had guided the Synhedrion up till then in the calculation of the calendar and the fixing of the festivals. . .
"The method of calculating the calendar introduced by Hillel is so simple and certain that up to the present day it has not required either emendation or amplification, and for this reason is acknowledged to be perfect by all who are competent to express an opinion on the subject, whether Jews or non-Jews. The system is based upon a cycle of nineteen years, in which seven leap years occur. Ten months in every year are invariable, and consist alternately of twenty-nine and thirty days; the two autumn months only which follow Tishri (the most important of all the months) are left variable, as being dependent on certain circumstances in astronomy and Jewish law. This and other computations rest, however, on rules so simple, and are so plain and easy, that the veriest tyro is thereby enabled to draw up a calendar for a hundred, or even a thousand years." (History of the Jews, by Heinrich Graetz, Volume II, Chapter XXI, pp. 572-574).

Realizing that this calendrical system, a lunar/solar calendar corrected by intercalation according to the Metonic cycle, was familiar already to the ancient Babylonians, it is very difficult to avoid noticing that there is a strong circumstantial case that the Jews simply adopted the Babylonian system. There is no evidence of any independent Jewish astronomical tradition, and plenty of evidence that the Jews were for a time exiled to Babylon, not all of them returning; noted Jewish calendrists like Mar-Samuel came from Babylon. There is no shame in borrowing a calendar from Babylon, it's a good calendar; however this calendar did not fall from the sky, it has no Biblical roots, and given that there's no paganism like Babylonian paganism, this calendar can enjoy no special status nor special privileges versus competing products. The Babylonians, though they developed no theoretical astronomy to rival ancient Greece's, were indefatigable astronomical observers, piling up data in the hopes of perfecting their 'science' of astrology.

Intercalating extra months according to the Metonic cycle is one way of reconciling our two quarrelling time-pieces, the sun and the moon, but it is not the only way to skin that particular cat. The date of passover is of interest not only to Jews, but to Christians as well, who celebrate the resurrection which occurred several days thereafter:

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Wild Card

The Christian scholar Hippolytus computed a table of dates for Easter, which is engraved upon his seated statue. Unfortunately, Christian products of this sort could not be used with perfect security, as it was the custom to adopt the date of passover in use by local Jews, and this could change at any time, owing to the power of the Patriarch to make these arbitrary 'corrections,' for example in keeping with local meteorological conditions:

"Gamaliel [I] would address a foreign community through the pen of his accomplished secretary, Jochanan, in these terms: . . .'To our brethren, the exiles in Babylon, Media, Greece (Ionia), and to all other exiles, greeting: We make known to you that as in this season the lambs are still very small, and the doves have not yet their full-grown wings, the spring being very backward this season, it pleases me and my colleagues to prolong the year by thirty days.'" (The History of the Jews, by Heinrich Graetz, Volume II, Chapter VII, pp. 192-193).

This throws a monkey-wrench into the mechanism. It would be better to rely on the 'uncorrected' Metonic cycle, which is really quite good, than to improvise in this thoughtless manner. Any such 'corrections' will only have to be 'uncorrected' later. When, at the Council of Nicaea, the Christians adopted their own system for computing Passover/Easter, they were freeing themselves from calendrical corrections based upon how big the lambs were in the Holy Land. While the harsh and anti-semitic tone they take is lamentable, it's a shame to accuse them of paganism, of wanting to worship Ishtar, and similar silliness; why not accuse Gamaliel of worshipping the weather instead. True enough, the astronomic benchmark they adopted, the vernal equinox, was celebrated by the pagans, as was every other astronomic benchmark to which the solar year can practicably be tethered. But God gave us the sun for just such a use.

On the one hand, the Christian can regret that the church of that day got so tied up with questions of days and times, which are ultimately trivial. On the other hand, one must also regret that, when the church solved these difficulties in an astronomically rational manner, they get accused of paganism. It's a bum rap. And besides these critics need to come clean about worshipping the Babylonian moon goddess. Surely they cannot think that the Babylonian calendar they prefer was a secular one, can they?

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LogoThe Talmud

If Christianity is deemed pagan for controlling the length of the year with an equinox, then so is Judaism. The rabbis also use this astronomical benchmark to control their system of intercalation. There are four solar bench-marks in the year, called Thkhupha or Tekufah, the two inflection points, the winter and summer solstices, and the two break-even points, the vernal and autumnal equinox. And yes, the Talmud employs these benchmarks to control the year, though not exclusively::


“The rabbis taught: For the following three things a leap year is made: because of the late arrival of spring; of the unripeness of tree-products; and for the late arrival of Thkhupha (the equinox). When two of the three things occur, the year is made intercalary; but not if one of them.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tract Sanhedrin (Supreme Council), Chapter 1, p. 25 [11b]).

It is helpful to control the year with the equinox; as the Nicene bishops realized, this can serve as a stand-alone solution, as the sun is a reliable time-keeper. But the Rabbis didn't leave it at that, which makes their system sloppy, inelegant and unpredictable. They keep their eye not only on the every-faithful sun, but also on agricultural performance, which is hardly necessary, and other odd enumerated occurrences. Can the Rabbis have suspected the sun itself of pagan tendencies?

"Our Rabbis taught: A year may be intercalated on three grounds: on account of the premature state of the corn-crops; or that of the fruit-trees; or on account of the lateness of the Tekufah [Lit. 'cycle', 'season']. Any two of these reasons can justify intercalation, but not one alone. All, however, are glad when the state of the spring-crop is one of them. Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel says: On account of [the lateness of] the Tekufah. The Schoolmen inquired: Did he mean to say that 'on account of the [lateness of the] Tekufah' [being one of the two reasons], they rejoiced, or that the lateness of the Tekufah alone was adequate reason for intercalating the year? — The question remains undecided.

"Our Rabbis taught: [The grain and fruit of the following] three regions [are taken as the standard] for deciding upon the declaration of a leap-year: Judea, Trans-Jordania, and Galilee. The requirements of two of these regions might determine the intercalation, but not those of a single one. All, however, were glad when one of the two was Judea, because the barley for the Omer was obtained [by preference] in Judea." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 11b.)

Moses

Philo Judaeus credits Moses with the idea of controlling the year by the vernal equinox:


“Moses puts down the beginning of the vernal equinox as the first month of the year, attributing the chief honor, not as some persons do to the periodical revolutions of the year in regard of time, but rather to the graces and beauties of nature which it has caused to shine upon men; for it is through the bounty of nature that the seeds which are sown to produce the necessary food of mankind are brought to perfection.” (Philo Judaeus, On the Life of Moses, Book III, XXIX).


Something of the sort does need to be done, though what calendar Moses used is unknown. Philo is talking about the Passover, which is celebrated in the first month of the year: "Accordingly, in this month, about the fourteenth day of the month, when the orb of the moon is usually about to become full, the public universal feast of the passover is celebrated, which in the Chaldaic language is called pascha..." (Philo Judaeus, On the Life of Moses, Book III, XXIX). The solar year is not evenly divisible by months or weeks or even days. The Council of Nicaea used the same astronomical benchmark: the vernal equinox,-- as the Jews were already sometimes using for the same purpose, though their method of computation differed. All usable astronomical benchmarks are precious to the pagans, who populate the skies with gods. What are we therefore to do: allow the holidays to slip and slide through the year with no check?

Philo Judaeus thought that Passover was a universal feast which did not require proximity to the temple, though the Rabbis did not concur:

"Accordingly, in this month, about the fourteenth day of the month, when the orb of the moon is usually about to become full, the public universal feast of the passover is celebrated, which in the Chaldaic language is called pascha; at which festival not only do private individuals bring victims to the altar and the priests sacrifice them, but also, by a particular ordinance of this law, the whole nation is consecrated and officiates in offering sacrifice; every separate individual on this occasion bringing forward and offering up with his own hands the sacrifice due on his own behalf. Therefore all the rest of the people rejoiced and was of joyful countenance, every one thinking that he himself was honored by this participation in the priesthood." (Philo Judaeus, On The Life of Moses, Book III, XXIX.

Sunday

There was a dispute about the date of Easter in the early church. Some Christians wanted Easter to be synchronized with Passover. These 'quartodecimians' claimed John's observance as their precedent:

"For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always [so] observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him." (Fragments of Irenaeus).

The Jewish Christians were naturally aware of the date of Passover, and expected Easter to maintain some link thereto. But 14 Nisan can occur any day of the week. According to the gospels, the Lord was crucified on Friday and rose early in the morning on Sunday. Coordinating Easter with Passover only will leave believers celebrating Easter, not always on Sunday, but on any day of the week. This is a partial commemoration, not a full.

So the Nicene Council's endeavor to fix the date of Easter is not so much a wicked introduction of pagan observance into the church, as a practical solution to a practical problem. Do the detractors have a better solution, or are they willing to see this holiday cycle through the solar year, occurring sometimes in the dead of winter, sometimes in the dog-days of summer? Or do they prefer the Babylonian luni-solar calendar adopted by the rabbis? What is sacrosanct about this calendar, which is nowhere ordained or described in scripture?

Julius Caesar's calendar with its artificial months has triumphed so resoundingly that some people seem to think paying attention to the phases of the moon is diagnostic of paganism. Recall Pastor David Meyer, quoted above, complaining "the pagan holiday is always set as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox." On a calendar which counts lunar months, as is done by the Muslims and the Jews, the month always begins with new moon, proceeds to the full moon at the middle of the month, and ends with the waning of the moon. The Nicene bishops were not displaying paganism by attending to the phases of the moon; rather, that is what a month is. If you want to set a holiday in the "first month," you cannot avoid making note of the phases of the moon. If that month must occur in the "spring," you cannot forever avert your eyes from the vernal equinox, which tells us when it is "spring." The accusation of 'paganism' flies right past the church, at whom it is levelled, zooming instead at the very luminaries God ordained as time-keepers.




Logo What's in a Name

If people dislike the Anglo-Saxon word 'Easter,' then they should say 'Resurrection Day.' If celebration of the resurrection were originally an Anglo-Saxon holiday which spread to the Christian church, then the derivation of this Anglo-Saxon term would indeed be relevant, whether from a pagan goddess named 'Eostre' or elsewhere. But Christianity, complete with its Easter observances, was introduced into England and Germany long after it was established in the Mediterranean region. So where the English and German words for it come from is beside the point.

It is difficult to see the merit in the critics' case against Easter. The bishops solved the calendrical problem by putting the system on auto-pilot; they dispensed with any need to study the Metonic cycle by allowing the equinox, a readily verifiable solar check-point, to govern the solar year. That this is not the way the ancient Babylonians did it is of very little concern. That the two systems are functionally equivalent is shown in the fact that 'Easter' and 'Passover' have not fundamentally diverged; though they can be separated by as much as a month, they have not ended up being celebrated at different times of year. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and the Babylonian way cannot enjoy any special privileges.