Atheists Need to Fact-Check Better

I’ve said this over and over again; around this time of year, some internet meme will develop about Jesus or Easter or the resurrection and produce some lame fabrication full of untruths and atheists and skeptics  will spread it around social media without doing a shred of fact-checking.  This year, it is this atrocity:

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This image contains many inaccuracies.  Do not rely upon a simple internet search, which yields additional misinformation (indeed, it seems that the creator of this meme is merely copying, almost verbatim, from these websites which are just as clueless).

  • Easter was not ‘originally the celebration of Ishtar’; Easter has always been associated with the equinox, with the dawning of spring; it signifies a change–not in fertility and sex–of seasons and the hope of new beginnings.
  • Despite the images intimations, the name ‘Easter’ did not originate from ‘Ishtar’.  This is a subtle, yet effectively deceptive tactic to get you to think there are similarities between the two due to the similar sounds in English. But comparing two words from different language groups is about as useful as comparing a word in German to a word in Korean for the same reason.
  • The word ‘Easter’ most probably originated from an Anglo-Saxon word Eostre, the name of a goddess of spring and of dawn.
  • The background of the hares are not associated with fertility (which seems to be an association based upon popular belief–not evidence), but may have been associated also with Eostre.
  • Ishtar is also considered a goddess of war; the problem with memes like this is they neglect important information.  In this manner, Ishtar has zero relevance to the Easter tradition–not in name, not in her communal functions.  Certainly this would not have been a good choice for Christians from late antiquity who were arguing for abstinence and celibacy, even in marriages!

The real irony here is that Ishtar is actually somewhat relevant to the Christian tradition of Easter for a completely different reason (i.e., Jesus’s resurrection).  Indeed, the narrative known as the ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World’ is an excellent superficial (key word) comparison of the death and resurrection of a Jesus from antiquity–one that would have been somewhat familiar to Jews living in the region of ANE:

The pure Ereckigala seated herself upon her throne, The Anunnaki, the seven judges, pronounced judgment before her. They fastened her eyes upon her, the eyes of death. At their word, the word that tortures the spirit. The sick “woman” was turned into a corpse. The corpse was hung from a stake.  After three days and three nights had passed, her minister Nincubur…fills the heavens with complaints for her…. Before Enki he weeps: “O Father Enki, let not thy daughter be put to death in the nether world….” Father Enki answers Ninshubur: “What has happened to my daughter!  I am troubled, what has happened to Inanna…! What has happened to the hierodule of heaven! …Surely Inanna will arise.”  …Inanna arose.  Inanna ascends from the nether world. (Trans. Samuel N. Kramer, ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World,’ in James B. Prichard, ed., ANET, pp. 52-57)

Some important questions need to be asked:

1.Who would have had access to these myths?
2.Who would have been able to read them?
3.Who would have understood them?

It is easy for someone to claim that Inanna is the precursor to the resurrection narrative of Jesus, but such claims are unfounded.  Without any evidence, these are simply correlations–but correlations aren’t causations.  Proving links between two texts can be an almost impossible task (though conspiracy theorists seem to do it anyway).  Even strong cases are sometimes proved irrelevant simply because one text could not have been accessible to the authors of the other text.  So similarities alone do not prove a link. The only thing that can be said is that the motif of a dying and rising deity had existed prior to the figure of Jesus and would have been known by at least some Jewish communities (Inanna cursed Tammuz to the underworld, of whom the author of Ezekiel 8.14 speaks).

So enough of these crazy conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated memes.  There is no basis for these sorts of claims.

Edit: Of course I think everyone needs to fact-check; But so far only atheists have been bold enough to post this image on social media without doing any additional fact-checking. And then when I would challenge these atheists, they would do only a meager Google search and post up whatever results fit the image without checking those results against legitimate sources (like the ODoCC).  So yes, I’m calling them out. You can’t sit there and arrogantly claim enlightened status if you’re just going to forward along dumb memes without making sure they’re accurate first. That is just not right.  You berate Christians for taking things at face value, after all.  Take heed.

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15 Responses

  1. [...] across this post over at The Musings of Thomas Verenna, and I think he makes a great point. He states that the image below is something that’s going [...]

  2. Reblogged this on 2000 words due in the morning and commented:
    It is hard but we all need to fact check before making claims.

  3. My problem is that it appears that Nugent is taking a lot of liberal interpretations of the story and connecting lots of dots, some of which I don’t think exist. His basic story of Inanna is correct, but when he starts talking about plants drying up and crops and life going extinct, well, that isn’t in the original Sumerian narrative of Inanna. He seems to be drawing on much later traditions (how late I don’t know), possibly Akkadian traditions, as much of the Inanna narrative around this part is situated in lacunae–it is missing. So he seems to be combining Inanna’s narratives with those of later Ishtar traditions. While they are essentially the same figure, the narratives develop later around Ishtar (much like the Gnostic traditions from the second-forth centuries developed about Jesus).

    He is correct about Eostre and the date and the Anglo-Saxon-izing of the Christian tradition. But I think his description of the Ishtar tradition being the basis of the English word Easter is absolutely wrong. He’s really stretching there. As I said above.

  4. [...] Tom Verenna points out, this is pretty much all wrong. ‘Easter’ is not derived from ‘Ishtar’; they [...]

  5. [...] tackling of claims about pagan origins of Easter by Tom Verenna and Tom Breen (HT Joel Watts) and Tom Verenna. Brian Renshaw has posted the Greek text of John’s passion narrative with vocabulary helps [...]

  6. [...] Emmaus has a collection of icons  depicting Peter’s embarrassment over the event.  Tom Verenna “fact checks” atheist internet memes. Ed Babinski (a man who claims to be “pals with biblioblogger, Joel Watts”) hosts his own [...]

  7. Yeah, on the RationalWiki blog I got a pagan in to bash it to pieces: http://rationalblogs.org/rationalwiki/2013/03/31/no-its-not-all-about-ishtar-some-mythbusting-easter-facts-from-your-friendly-pagan-sceptic/ To the RDFRS’s slight credit, they took it down when called on it, and left up the threads calling them on it.

  8. [...] EDIT: Tom Verenna has a good post up about the Ishtar meme as well. Go read it! [...]

  9. For the record, it’s not only “atheists” spewing this error. Three years ago the righteous … and very religious … folks over at World Net Daily were making it, too. And this godless agnostic heathen called them out on it, back then.

  10. For the record, I made a disclaimer in the post on just this point. Please read more carefully in the future. =)

  11. For the record, I did read carefully. In your last edit above you said, “But so far only atheists have been bold enough to post this image on social media without doing any additional fact-checking …” Was I mistaken when I read this and concluded you were insisting that “only atheists” were spreading this error?

  12. […] Read more here. For an excellent discussion of Ishtar see Tom Verenna’s blog here […]

  13. I don’t necessarily claim enlightened status, and I’ve never believed this Ishtar thing — it helps that I’ve actually studied some Sumerian mythos as well. Don’t generalize atheists too much. ;)

  14. Not generalizing; see disclaimer! ;-)

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