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The Christian origins of Easter

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Judeo-Christian origins of Easter:

A very common theme present in ancient Pagan religions described the life of a man-god -- a savior of humanity -- his execution, his visit to the underworld, his resurrection after two or three days, and his ascension to heaven. The life of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ), as recorded in the Gospels, includes the Christian version of this theme. Good Friday is observed in remembrance of Jesus' execution by the occupying Roman army, and his subsequent burial in a cave-tomb. Easter Sunday is the date when a group of his female followers first noticed the empty tomb, and concluded that he had either been resurrected, or his body had been stolen.

The timing of the Christian celebration of Easter is linked to the Jewish celebration of the Passover. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were observed by the ancient Israelites early in each new year. (The Jewish people then followed the Persian/Babylonian calendar, and started each year with the Spring Equinox circa MAR-21). "Equinox" means "equal night;" on that date of the year, the night and day are approximately equal. The name "Passover" was derived from the actions of the angel of death as described in the book of Exodus. The angel "passed over" the homes of the Jews in Egypt which were marked with the blood obtained from a ritual animal sacrifice. The same angel exterminated the first born(s) of every family whose doorway was not so marked. Next to the genocide at the time of Noah's flood, the mass murder in Egypt was the second largest genocide mentioned in the Bible. Victimized were all the first-born sons as well as the first-born domesticated animals throughout the country.

bullet Liberal theologians trace Passover to an ancient pre-Israelite Pagan ritual practiced by wandering Semitic shepherds. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was originally a traditional Canaanite agricultural harvest which was adopted by the Israelites. It marked the start of the barley harvest; barley was the first crop to ripen. Because they occurred at about the same time each year, the two celebrations became merged into a two day observance. The Passover later became associated with the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
bullet Conservative theologians generally believe that the original Passover was established up by God as described in Exodus 5, and that the annual Passover observances were created as "appointed feasts" established by God as described in Leviticus 23:5-14. Both were recorded by Moses.

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When was Yeshua (Jesus) executed?

Passover was the most important feast of the Jewish calendar, celebrated at the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. (The Equinox typically occurs on March 20, 21 or 22 according to our present Gregorian calendar.) The Gospels differ on the date of Jesus' execution:

bullet The Synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) state that Jesus' last supper was a Seder - a Passover celebration at the start of 15th Nisan, just after sundown. (Jewish days begin at sundown and continue until the next sundown). Jesus was executed later that day and died about 3 PM.
bullet The gospel of John states that the last supper at the beginning of 14th Nisan. Jesus is recorded as having died on the afternoon of 14th Nisan.

Most theologians reject John's timing. They assume that John chose a false date for symbolic reasons. He made Jesus' execution synchronize with the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb in the Temple at Jerusalem. If Jesus was executed by the Roman Army on a Friday, then Passover would have fallen on a Thursday. This happened both in the years 30 and 33 CE.

Many theologians accept an execution date of Friday, 30-APR-7 CE as correct. However, this date does produce some difficulties with the timing of Jesus' ministry. Most theologians reject the inference in the Gospel of John that Jesus taught over an interval in excess of two years and less than four years. An early crucifixion date is compatible with a one-year ministry, as implied in the Synoptic gospels where only a single Passover is mentioned. Some authorities prefer the date of 33-APR-3 CE. However, this late timing causes problems in other ways. It does not seem to allow sufficient time for Saul's persecutions of Christians, Paul's conversion, his three-year absence from Palestine, and his early evangelism before the Jerusalem Council was held. In 1733, the great British scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, computed two likely dates: 33-APR-7 and 34-APR-23. He preferred the latter. The AD 34 choice has few supporters today; it conflicts with the date of Paul's conversion. Also, it requires that five Passovers had occurred during Jesus' ministry and depends on a reference of the corn at Passover in Luke 6:1. These are not considered compelling. 1

Most Christians believe that Jesus Christ was executed and buried just before the beginning of Passover on Friday evening. A minority believe that the execution occurred on a Wednesday or Thursday. Various dates other than the two above have been suggested:

bullet 30-APR-5 CE, a Wednesday
bullet 30-APR-6 CE, a Thursday
bullet 31-APR-26 CE, a Thursday
bullet 32-APR-10 CE, a Thursday

Some liberal Christians have suggested that the actual date of Jesus' execution is unknown, that it might have happened at any time during the year, and that the early Christian church arbitrarily selected Passover as the time. This allowed them to link the most important religious days in Judaism and Christianity. It also allowed the human sacrifice of Jesus ("Christ our paschal lamb" in 1 Corinthians 5:7) to be linked to the time of the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem during the first century CE.

Unfortunately, without a specific year, month, and day for Jesus' execution, Easter Sunday is not observed on the actual anniversary of Jeus' execution. Various calculation methods are in use around the world to set its date.

Other theologians have suggested that Yeshua of Nazareth never existed, or that he lived centuries earlier, or that he was never crucified. Over one billion Muslims in the world believe that he was not executed by the Roman Army; some other person was substituted for Jesus.

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  1. John P. Pratt, "Newton's Date For The Crucifixion," Quarterly Journal of Royal Astronomical Society 32, (1991-SEP), Pages 301-304. Online at:

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Copyright 1999 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-APR-09.
Author: B.A. Robinson

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