Easter? Bah, Humbug!
Published on: April 3, 1998
This is only one article at Suite 101 to help you celebrate the Easter season. After visiting this page, enjoy articles by other Suite 101 contributing editors. Happy Easter from the Editors at Suite 101.
The resurrection myth is one of the central bits of theological baggage in most flavors of Christianity. (I dimly recall hearing of a few that do not insist on a literal resurrection.)
My personal, and unsupported, view of the myth is that it was adopted early as a thumb-in-the-eye to the Romans: "Look, you did your worst to our prophet, and he still keeps going and going. Jesus the Energizer bunny. Oh, and he's conveniently ascended to heaven so that you can't disprove it, and you couldn't prove any corpse is Jesus." The resurrection, in my view, was a first century urban legend. It didn't happen, but became a widely circulated and popular story.
Now, that's a casually skeptical view: one that might be held before investigating the subject on the Humean grounds that it's more reasonable to believe almost any alternative to a miraculous explanation.
But naturally, there's been a lot more said about this subject. A quick hop to The Secular Web turns up 384 matches when searching for the word "easter." (Though not too many are pertinent to the validity of the resurrection story.)
Leave No Stone Unturned: An Easter Challenge For Christians by Dan Barker asks "that Christians tell me exactly what happened on the day that their most important doctrine was born." He enumerates some of the many contradictions of the gospels about the resurrection, and quite reasonably asks for an explanation. No good ones have been volunteered. We might also note that many candidate texts were omitted from the Bible: they might have confused the situation even further.
This actually fits the urban legend scenario: urban legends, fairy tales, and other mythical oral traditions are NOT transmitted unchanged. They readily mutate. Though of course originally true stories can also mutate as in the game of telephone, either by purposeful or accidental transmission error. The 40 or so years between the putative death of Jesus and the writing of the gospels provides lots of time for invention and mutation of stories.
Even more damning, The Story Of Religious Controversy by Joseph McCabe highlights the fact that Easter is largely a holiday adopted from the pagans. Not just the time of year, but the meaning, symbolism, and rituals.
Firmicus Maternus wrote in The Errors of the Profane Religions "that every year the birth of these gods was celebrated, often in mid-winter, and every year, often about the time of our Easter, the death and resurrection of the gods were celebrated. He discovered that in some of these religions bread and wine were used at the altar, and candles and incense and sacred water were part of the ritual."
As McCabe notes, there is very little other documentation of pagan practices, otherwise we might notice a great deal more plagiarism.
And finally, to end on a lighter note, here's a humorous prank article: Easter Cancelled This Year! See if you can guess why before you read it.
Strephon: "Have you the heart to apply the prosaic rules of evidence to a case brimming with such poetical emotion?"
Gilbert and Sullivan, Iolanthe