White Coat Underground

Hag Sameach!

I’m not one for long posts on religion, but with the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) upon us and Easter rapidly approaching, there are a few things worth noting.

Spring festivals have probably been going on since people began planting crops. Easter (and the Passover from which it descended) are both, at their heart, reinterpretations of pagan spring/fertility holidays. But that’s not news. Let’s (briefly) review the basics of these holidays.

Pesach is the Jewish festival that celebrates the (supposed) Exodus from Egypt. Over the last couple of thousand years there have been many interpretations and explications of the holiday, but most of the basics are about renewal. The liturgy and interpretations specify that all Jews are to remember that not only were our ancestors slaves and redeemed by God, but that each of us was, in a way, in Egypt, in bondage, and redeemed by God. Many liberal and reform Jews specifically relate their emancipation to modern oppression, and during the seder (the telling of the Passover story) will discuss modern moral crises. (My family’s original Haggadahs, called “The New Haggadah” from the late 40’s explicitly blended in themes of modern suffering and called on readers to oppose oppression wherever it is found.) The foods of the holiday, such as the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs, add a physical element to the remembrance.

Easter, like Passover, is a holiday of redemption. In this case, it celebrates the (supposed) death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While Pesach celebrates both a spiritual and physical redemption of the People, Easter, while telling of a physical salvation of sorts, relates more to a spiritual salvation and redemption.

Both holidays evoke an historical sacrifice: in the case of Pesach there is the slaughter of lambs to mark the doorposts of the Hebrews in Egypt, so that the Angel of Death will “pass over” their homes. In the case of Easter, it is the sacrifice of a different type of paschal lamb, the “lamb of God”, or Jesus, which allows death to pass over indefinitely, as it were.

Easter is essentially the Christian Passover (the Last Supper was a Passover meal), but these two holidays have a nasty history together. Before the destruction of European Jewry, one of the most popular anti-semitic memes was the “blood libel” This particular excuse for murder held that Jews needed to sacrifice Christian children to use their blood to make matzah, the traditional Passover bread. Combine this with the accusation of having “killed Jesus”, and Easter/Passover became a popular time for pogroms, or campaigns of violence and murder against Jews.

Many of my fellow atheists may find these details irrelevant, but I find religion endlessly fascinating. So, Happy Passover and Happy Easter, dear readers, and let’s try to focus on the positive messages of both holidays: freedom, redemption, fellowship, and good food. Hopefully, some of the bitter memories of the season will fade and be remembered in ritual rather than feared as a lurking danger.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    April 8, 2009

    The word Passover as a translation for Pesach was coined by William Tyndale, during his labours to translate Greek and Hebrew Biblical texts into English. He also gave us atonement, scapegoat and Jehovah. Oh, and he got burned at the stake in 1536, because Englishing the Bible just wasn’t a thing a nice fellow did.

    As if the history of these holidays wasn’t bloody enough. . . .

  2. #2 Denice Walter
    April 8, 2009

    As one atheist to another, happy holi-,er, happy spring!

  3. #3 The Perky Skeptic
    April 8, 2009

    Hee! As a former Wiccan priestess, I wish you and yours a very happy Ostara! (The holiday where egg hunting takes on a whole new meaning (BABY-MAKIN’!!!)!)!

    (Cutting myself off the coffee for the day now…)

  4. #4 PalMD
    April 8, 2009

    I didn’t get into this level of detail, but of course Easter and Passover both have eggs as part of their symbolism. I wonder what Christian or Jewish symbols the eggs are (he he)?

  5. #5 Stephanie Z
    April 8, 2009

    Always fascinating in its similarities and differences. For example, the festival celebrating the resurrection of Osiris is held in the fall instead. That’s when the grain is planted, so it’s a fertility ritual of sorts, but it doesn’t seem to have the human fertility component. Not surprising, given the god’s own incapacity, but still interesting.

    Enjoy your time with family and tradition, Pal.

  6. #6 Phoenix Woman
    April 9, 2009

    Hey, it’s always good to have discussions of what forms the building blocks of our culture. As Faulkner said: “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”

  7. #7 G Felis
    April 9, 2009

    See, I thought that Easter was a Holy Day honoring the Easter Bunny (symbolizing life and spring and hope) winning Her battle against the horrific zombie Jesus, who rose from the dead to consume our sins (and brains), thereby denying us the possibility of righting our past wrongs and achieving real redemption.

    Or is it the holiday celebrating the birth of Mithras the Redeemer from the Easter Bunny’s Cosmic Egg? Or a celebration honoring Jesus the Trickster stealing all the pigs of Surtr the Fire Giant (before his coronation feast) by the clever ruse of infesting them with demons so they would run away? Or the holiday that celebrates the occasion when Moses instructed the Israelites to daub lamb’s brains on their lintels to appease/distract the hunger of zombie Jesus, whom God had sent to eat the brains of the first born sons of Egypt?

    I get a little confused about theological matters. But I hope everyone enjoys the holiday!

  8. #8 Pieter B
    April 9, 2009

    The UltraModern Haggadah. Humorectomy survivors need not click.

  9. #9 The Perky Skeptic
    April 9, 2009

    Pieter B, that is hilarious! Thanks for posting the link.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.