Every year around Easter I end up seeing posts about how Easter is supposedly a pagan holiday worshipping Ishtar. According to the argument, Easter and Ishtar are pronounced the same, and so are connected (thank Alexander Hislop’s spurious “scholarship” for this one).
Are they pronounced the same? No. If they were, would it prove that Easter is a pagan festival to worship Ishtar? No. Ishtar is a Semitic word, while Easter is Germanic. The two languages are not etymologically related. There are many false cognates between languages, where words look and/or sound alike but have different meanings. For example, take the word “me” in English. It sounds like the Hebrew word for “who”, which is transliterated “mj” or “mi”, but the two words have dissimilar meanings. No, sounding similar isn’t reason to make a connection between the two.
Some then say that the word Easter actually derives from the Germanic goddess Eostre instead (Hislop claims Eostre and Ishtar are in fact the same goddess). Easter (or Ostern in German) started being used because the month in which the Paschal feast often fell was named Eostre. Whether there actually was a goddess named Eostre remains a matter of debate; if there was, though, her worship had ceased by the time the Venerable Bede was writing. Never did he, or anyone until more modern times, claim that Easter was a pagan festival worshipping Eostre or that the two were at all related.
Such arguments as these rely on looking exclusively at the English terms instead of looking at the big picture. In other languages, the word used for this holiday is similar to the word for Passover. The Hebrew for Passover is Pesach; the Latin for this holiday is Pascha. Even in English, we often refer to our Paschal feast. In earlier times, it was not unusual for English speakers to use the term Pash or Pace. The term Pascha was chosen because of it being the word for Passover, and so is etymologically related. It was chosen because of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection being at the time of Passover, showing that He is our true Paschal Lamb. We celebrate His Passion and Resurrection every year at the Paschal feast, more commonly called Easter in English. It certainly isn’t pagan.