Which came first — the bunny or the egg?

Every Spring, a sentient rabbit without opposable thumbs breaks into your house and leaves chocolate replicas of itself and colored eggs strewn about for no apparent reason.  It’s the age old question, what do bunny rabbits have to do with eggs?  You don’t have to be a biologist, or really even that clever, to know that rabbits do not lay eggs, nor are they mammals that hatch their young.  Why, then, has the rabbit, the egg, and candy become associated with the Christian belief that their deity died and rose from the dead?

I have established in the past with you, thoughtful reader, that Christianity is a syncretistic religion.  As a marketing scheme, Christian missionaries have, since the founding of the religion, incorporated the beliefs, culture, and thought of their target audience, no matter how batshit crazy, into Christianity in order to introduce and make their own beliefs more palatable:  "Sign-up for our fairy tales, 'cuz they are really like yours," or “You know that thing you believe?  Well, you almost had it right — it got you to the ten yard line, our stuff will get you over the goal line."  This practice, when combined with European colonialism in the last millennium, allowed Christianity to spread the world over like a virus.

But how do you get cute little bunnies, eggs, and candy to sync up to a barbaric form of capital punishment — crucifixion?

I’ll begin with bunnies.  The Teutonic (Germanic) deity Eostra was the goddess of Spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal (Spring) Equinox.  A rabbit was used to symbolize her because of the animal's high reproduction rate.  In agrarian cultures, Spring symbolized new life and rebirth; flowers began to bloom, leaves grew back on trees that had lay dormant through Winter, and darkness was replaced by ever-increasing periods of light, cold with warmth, and so on.  Ancient peoples, unencumbered by science, saw this as rebirth after death rather than explained by the Earth's annual journey around the sun, which owing to its elliptical orbit and axial tilt placed any given spot on the planet nearer the warmth and rays of the sun (Summer) or further from them (Winter).  This provided a treasure trove of symbols for Christian evangelists and missionaries, and they used it as a template for explaining their beliefs in a slain deity who came back from the dead (as Spring follows Winter) to bring light and life into the world.

Now eggs.  Eggs had been a symbol of fertility since ancient times.  What we see today with this odd association of a non-hatching mammal with a delivery mechanism for gestation is Eostra’s dual portfolios:  Spring, and fertility.  Eggs represent the sex, or, more accurately, the logical outcome thereof — fertility.  Hatching represents birth.  But Eostra’s other gig was as spokeswoman for Spring, which we’ve established is an annual experience of rebirth.  Put them together and you get bunnies laying eggs.

Easter’s connection with the egg dates back to the apostolic era immediately following Jesus of Nazareth’s execution as an enemy of the state.  In many cultures, long before western Christian hegemony and even longer before Eostra, the egg was a symbol of birth.  The early Christian evangelists found in it a ready-made metaphor for one of the more unlikely, yet entirely unoriginal, tenets of the belief system they were selling:  resurrection after death.  Remember, Jesus was not the first so-called deity to rise from the dead; long before the carpenter’s adopted son, Osiris, Tammuz, Mithras, and Balder all had a go at this nifty trick; nor was he the last — the Prophet Muḥammad, though technically not a deity, rode a “a white animal, half-mule, half-donkey, with wings on its sides” having the head of a woman and the tail of a peacock named Burāq (Obama?) to heaven after he died.  Uh, yah.

Anyway, the egg worked perfectly for Christian catechists because it fit this story they’d come up with about an empty tomb which their CEO had escaped from:  Jesus broke forth from the tomb like a chick from an egg and left the empty tomb behind as a newborn chick leaves its empty shell. As advertising goes, its almost as genius as those Geico commercials; and who doesn’t love Flo?

Okay, that’s bunnies and eggs.  Now, why colored?

To answer that, I first have to correct one of the most egregious and long-running examples of fake news in the history of the world.  Mary Magdalene, sometimes called Mary of Magdala, or simply "the Magdalene” WAS one of the groupies who followed Jesus on his “world” tour of Roman Judea.  She was an early promoter of his work and one of the many female investors helping to bankroll his roadshow "out of their own means” (Luke 8:2-3).  She is mentioned by name twelve times in the canonical gospels, more than any of the male apostles and more than any other woman in the gospels, other than Jesus’ mother; her epithet, “Magdalene,” indicates her home town of Magdala, a fishing village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  In Gnostic Christian writings, including the Dialogue of the Savior, the Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary, she is portrayed as Jesus’ closest and most “beloved" disciple and the only one who truly understood his teachings; this resulted in tension with another disciple, Peter, due to her gender (given the mores of the day) and Peter's jealousy of insider information given to her.

She WAS NOT a prostitute.  But ask almost anyone today and they will not only tell you she was but that it says so in the Bible.  Ahem, the Bible does not say that.

In a series of Easter sermons (ah, we’re getting warmer!) delivered in 1591 CE, Pope Gregory XIV conflated Mary Magdalene, who is introduced in Luke 8:2 as a woman out of whom seven demons were cast with what had come to be known as “the seven deadly sins;” it was a teaching device, nothing more, but he wasn’t done.  The misogynistic male hierarchy had to quash this scandalous idea that Jesus and a woman were close, so he drew a line from the Mary in Luke chapter 8 to Mary of Bethany (the sister of Lazarus; Lazarus was also resurrected after death but somehow is not a deity or even a prophet) in Luke chapter 10 and the unnamed "sinful woman” with the alabaster jar who anoints Jesus's feet in Luke 7:36–39 causing great scandal.  This sealed Mary Magdelene’s fate as a hooker, even though, in 1969, Pope Paul VI corrected his predecessor’s error of linking Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and the "sinful woman" by removing any mention of it from the Roman Catholic calendar.  The damage was, however, done by that point and her memory is slandered to this day.

Now, according to oral tradition, after Jesus’ supposedly buggered off to heaven, Mary Magdalene, who had made quite a lot of bank from turning tricks but was actually just from a wealthy and important family, had an audience with the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome; because she bought the whole “son of God” thing, she told him about the miraculous resurrection of Jesus, using an an egg as a prop to drive her point home.  Holding the egg out to him, she exclaimed for the first time what is now the universal Easter proclamation among Christians, "Christ is risen!"

The emperor knew this was impossible, and mocked her, saying that Jesus had no more risen from the dead than the egg in her hand was red.  Supposedly, the egg immediately turned red as a sign from God to underscore the truth of her silly pronouncement.  But why would Mary Magdalene bring an egg to talk about Jesus with the Roman Emperor?  Had she already been briefed on the marketing plan by headquarters?

Not quite.  The story goes that Mary Magdalene brought a basket of white hard-boiled eggs with her on the third morning after Jesus’ death to the tomb as something for her and the other women to eat as they waited for a man to come and roll the stone covering its entrance away so they could go in and attend to his corpse.  But Shazam!  When she arrived the stone had already rolled away (on its own, I guess), and just then the eggs in her basket turned pretty bright shades of color.  Tradition has it that this is why she brought an egg to the Emperor; she anticipated that the ghost of Jesus would perform a similar magic trick on her egg to help her convince the emperor.

Voila!  Bunnies and colored eggs = the supposed resurrection after death of Jesus of Nazareth.

As we get older, we come to see the whole Easter Bunny story as a harmless lie we tell children (along with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy) that serves as one of their first introductions to the cultural indoctrination of ritual (seeking-out hidden eggs, leaving milk and cookies for the fat man wearing red velvet that broke into the house overnight in December, expecting a fairy to leave money under your pillow while you were sleeping in exchange for your teeth that fell out — teeth s/he would have what use for?…creepy!)  These stories “prime the pump,” so to speak, for the child to accept an unseen agency, and he or she is conditioned (brainwashed?) to suspend disbelief and regard as fact something without supporting evidence — belief in the irrational is rewarded with candy, presents, and money, things a child associates with good, things a child wants.  Moreover, the idea of an omniscient being who rewards acceptable/conforming behavior and punishes disobedience is baked in at this point, and children are conditioned to await his imminent arrival in eight months:

He sees you when you're sleepin’
He knows when you're awake

He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I'm telling you why
 — Santa Claus is comin' to town

(John Coots/Haven Gillespie, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town)

Copyright © 2021 matthewwilkinson.net — all rights reserved.