It’s common for skeptics of Christianity to claim that the word Easter comes from the name of a pagan deity called Ishtar, suggesting that the Christian faith has pagan roots. But no matter how prevalent this contention has become, it has no basis in history or reality.
In Jeremiah 44:15-17, the people of Judah reject the prophet Jeremiah’s message in preference to their idolatrous worship of an entity called “the queen of heaven”—apparently the pagan deity Ishtar. Commentators seem to be in general agreement that Jeremiah’s “queen of heaven” is Astaroth or Ashtaroth—Astarte in the Septuagint, which is the Greek Old Testament. Literally, Astaroth means “the moon.” The moon was a Sidonian idol worshipped by the Phoenicians and worshipped as Ishtar by the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Babylonians. In nature worship, the sun and the moon were considered the king and queen, respectively, of the celestial heavens.
Some people have inferred that Easter is the English derivation of the Greek Astarte, but there is no linguistic or historical basis for this. In addition, the English word Easter is said to have derived from an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess named Eostre. This theory was based on an incorrect conclusion by St. Bede the Venerable about the etymological origins of the English month that coincides with spring and the celebration of Easter, Eosturmonath. But, as Anthony McRoy, a fellow of the British Society for Middle East Studies, notes, there is no historical basis for this derivation. He notes that St. Bede himself said his conclusion was based on his interpretation rather than a generally held position or proven fact.
Also, there is no doubt that the focus of Easter for St. Bede and English Christians in general, was and is Jesus, the Passover Lamb who died on our behalf and rose from the dead.
Indeed, in most European countries, the name for Easter derives from the Greek word Pascha, which itself is derived from the Hebrew Pesach—i.e., the word Passover. Thus, the term paschal sacrifice refers to Jesus’ one sacrifice, and paschal candle is another name for the Easter candle.
So where did the English get their word for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection? McRoy notes there are two main theories, both of which are plausible:
One theory for the origin of the name is that the Latin phrase in albis (“in white”), which Christians used in reference to Easter week, found its way into Old High German as eostarum, or “dawn.” The other is that Eosturmonath simply meant “the month of opening,” which is comparable to the meaning of “April” in Latin. The names of both the Saxon and Latin months (which are calendrically similar) were related to spring, the season when the buds open.
In either case, the claim that the English celebration is rooted in pagan goddess worship simply has no historical basis, even if some anti-Catholic polemicists have gotten a good deal of mileage out of it.
This article is adapted from a Catholic Answers Q&A. You can read the original entry here.