Inanna: Prototype of Easter?
Several atheist websites carried the story today: an interview with Dr. Tony Nugent of Seattle University conducted by Valerie Tarico of Huffington Post reveals that Easter has its origins in ancient Sumeria. In a myth constructed circa 2100 b.c., the goddess Inanna dies and rises after three days. Although on the surface, the myth sounds similar to the story of Christ, there are a number of significant differences that you will fail to hear about if you just take the word of Ms. Tarico.
First, this epic takes place thousands of years before human beings, and has nothing to do with human beings. The myth is to explain the cyclical seasons, and as is common in many myths of this type, the goddess dies and rises in a cyclical fashion. The myth takes place wholly in the realm of the gods, and has no proof of its historicity as such.
The story of Jesus, on the other hand, takes place within human history and is verifiable historically.
Second, Inanna is raised if she can find someone to take her place. In this case, she chose her husband who failed to moun her. Her sister-in-law pleaded to take his place, and so it was settled that Inanna’s husband would take half the year in the underworld and his sister the other half. This myth explains not a victory over death, as Jesus’ story does, instead it depicts the cyclical seasons.
In Jesus’ case, he rose only once (not cyclically) and no one had to take his place. In fact, no one could take his place, for Jesus lived a sinless life. It is well-established by a look at the Bible and human history that no one else has lived a sinless life. The fact of the empty tomb is also verifiable historically. Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, and William Lane Craig all have articles and books on that subject.
Third, Inanna is killed attempting to conquer the underworld. This is a significant departure from the Jesus story. This is goddess turf war, and has nothing to do with salvation.
Jesus, on the other hand, died on the cross to save mankind from his sins. This story has everything to do with salvation and nothing to do with the cyclical nature of seasons.
Fourth, there is no betrayal by someone close to the goddess in the Inanna myth as Dr. Nugent claims. He is simply wrong about that detail. Inanna was betrayed by her sister, the ruler of the underworld, but the two were not close. Their enmity is well-documented by other Sumerian myths.
Dying and rising gods usually signify something about the seasons, not anything to do with salvation and victory over death. Jesus died to secure salvation for the elect, to end the reign of death. He doesn’t continually rise again and again so that the seasons work in a cycle. Sorry, guys, but there are far more differences than similarities in the story.
Read the Wikipedia entry for Inanna; as of April 12, 2009 the details of the details of the story line up with my presentation above and not Dr. Nugent’s presentation.
Also read the brief entry at pantheon.org; it confirms some of the details above.