Easter greetings from Montalcino and the etymology of Easter

Above: I just couldn’t resist reposting this photo sent from our friends Laura and Marco at Il Palazzone in Montalcino.

In English today, we use the name Easter to denote the springtime Christian holiday and festival, from “Eostre (Northumbrian spelling of Éastre),” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition), “the name of a goddess whose festival was celebrated at the vernal equinox.”

In nearly every other Western language, however, we use a name that corresponds to the name of the Jewish festival of the Passover: “Greek πασχά, Hebrew pésaḥ [pesach], Latin pascha, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Dutch pask,” write the editors of the OED.

Until the late nineteenth century, Anglophones also commonly used the name pasch to denote the Easter feast (as in the expression the paschal lamb): from the “Aramaic pisḥā Passover fesival, Passover sacrifice, Passover meal (emphatic form of pasaḥ [meaning] to pass over; compare Syriac peṣḥā Passover, Easter, Hebrew pesaḥ Passover).”

What does passing over have to do with it all?

“The festival is named after the Lord’s ‘passing over’ the houses of the People of Israel, whose doorposts were marked with the blood of a lamb, while the Egyptians were punished with the death of their firstborn (Exodus 11–12).”

Buona pasqua, happy Easter, kalo pascha (Greek), ya’ll! :-)

6 thoughts on “Easter greetings from Montalcino and the etymology of Easter

  1. @FoodPrincess hag sameach! Easter is related… however more philologically than otherwise… in other words, the tradition of Easter finds its origins in the Jewish festival of Passover, which, in turn, can trace its origins to the proto-Roman and Roman festival celebrating the spring. It’s likely that the Jewish tradition of the lamb and the shank bone came from a Roman and pre-Roman tradition of sacrificing a lamb to the gods with the arrival of spring. The Hebrews adopted this practice as part of the Passover narrative and then ultimately, the early Christians adopted it as an element of the story of Christ’s rising from the tomb. It’s interesting to note that English is one of the few Western languages that doesn’t use a name directly related to the Hebrew pesach. :-)

  2. Wow, never heard of the Roman connection. How interesting, since I can’t think of any other Roman influence on Rabbinic Judaism. I’ve always thought pretty much along the lines of the wikipedia entry:
    s.v. “origins”.

    I’d be interested, DB, where the Roman references come from, since it’s always nice to complicate our stories.
    Hag sameach!

    • @bags you’d be surprised how much Roman influence there was on Talmudic Judaism (but that will have to wait for another occasion!). While Roman influence on Biblical Judaism doesn’t come until much later, it’s clear that many symbols of the Seder plate, have pagan origins: the sacrificial lamb or goat (the transference of evil onto an animal) and the egg (found in nearly all European springtime festivals) are both symbols and elements commonly found in pagan festivals, no? Thanks for reading and Hag Sameach! :-)

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