Geek of Faith – Origins of Christian Holidays – Easter Part 2 of Several

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This is a short one because it’s the easiest claim to pick apart and find information on.

King Herod and Easter

The Claim: In Acts 12:4, King Herod was preparing to celebrate the pagan Ishtar (Easter) holiday.

The Reality: This one was so easy to pick apart once I found out where the word Easter comes from. A little background on the chapter before I show what the problem is.

Acts 12 starts out with the story of King Herod killing James, the brother of John. Most of the chapter is dedicated to telling of King Herod capturing Peter, and the Apostle’s miraculous escape.

The verse in question is Acts 12:4. Here’s the King James Version of the verse.

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

The first ‘he’ refers to King Herod, the first ‘him’ refers to Peter. The relevant part to the verse is the part where it says, “intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.” This is where a lot of the conspiracy theory websites get the idea that Herod was about to celebrate the pagan Ishtar festival. See it’s right there right?

As I pointed out in Part 1, only the English refer to Passover as “Easter”. This should point out what’s happened here pretty easily. What I found on BibleGateway.com is that the only translation into English that has the word Easter in it is the King James Version, and it’s only mentioned this one time

I looked up to see what sources the King James used to see if it was possible there was any other word besides “pascha” in the text. The King James Version translators used the 1598 Greek translation by Theodore Beza as well as the Latin Vulgate, and some other English versions like the Tyndale version. My hypothesis was that knowing the Latin and Greek words for Passover are both pascha that the Vulgate would use that word, as would the Greek. Well it so happens that BibleGateway.com has both a version of the Latin Vulgate, and the 1550 Stephanus Greek version which was referred to as well.

Here’s the verse in the Greek from the 1550 version:

ον και πιασας εθετο εις φυλακην παραδους τεσσαρσιν τετραδιοις στρατιωτων φυλασσειν αυτον βουλομενος μετα το πασχα αναγαγειν αυτον τω λαω

Now I can’t read that but I can tell you that the word πασχα is pascha in Greek. It’s the fifth word from the end counting from right to left. When I ran that verse through Google translate it confirmed that the word used in reference to “passover” was “pascha” and there weren’t any other festivals referred to the in the verse. So I looked it up in the Latin Vulgate and this is the text there:

quem cum adprehendisset misit in carcerem tradens quattuor quaternionibus militum custodire eum volens post pascha producere eum populo

Now this is a little better, at least the letters are the same. You’ll note that pascha is the fourth to last word is pascha or Passover.

I am assuming that the Greek and Latin translations I’m using use the same wording and I found that this is yet another heated debate so there’s a bit of uncertainty here. Here’s a website that talks about it with good citations. The conclusion I come to is that it really should read “Passover” and several KJV Bibles have it saying “Greek: Passover” in the margin notes for this verse. Seeing as how most other translations show it as Passover, the translators used the word Passover instead of Easter in two other places where an earlier English translation used it (the Bishop’s Bible), and it’s the only time in the KJV that it reads that way, I think we can put this one to bed as an unfortunate translation decision.

As far as I can tell this is one of those things that’s only debated anymore because there’s a big “KJV 1611 ONLY!” crowd that rejects any other translation of the Bible and say that those Englishmen were the only people God ever talked to (Some of them even reject the original Greek and Hebrew!). While I agree that the KJV is a good baseline, and is typically the one I reference first, it does have its problems. I find the best practice is to look at several different literal translations when there’s some doubt about what the text is trying to convey.

For example, I typically look at the KJV, NKJV, Revised Standard Bible, and the New American Standard. I’ll also refer to commentaries that talk about the original Hebrew, Greek and Latin just to make sure there’s not some subtlety I’m missing.

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