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A Historical Look into the Origins of Easter

It is that time of year again — an overabundance of hot cross buns on campus! In addition to the hot cross buns, super market aisles are stocked with Easter eggs to power our brains with glucose whilst we ‘attempt’ to catch up on assignments and missed lectures during the mid-semester break. As we consume Easter eggs and hot cross buns, have we considered whether there is a deeper historical meaning to this holiday? Have you ever considered what the cross on the hot cross bun represents? Or wondered some people call week 7 “J Week”?

Well the “J” in “J week” stands for Jesus. During week 7, Christians across Monash University and other Australian universities use the opportunity of giving out hot cross buns to share what they believe to be the true meaning of Easter. For Christians, Jesus, not the Easter bunny or chocolate, is the focus of the week. They believe that Jesus who came to earth to reveal who God is, teaching people how to love one another and most importantly, dying for humanity on a cross so that we can be in relationship with a living God. Yet most importantly, Jesus comes back to life three days later and this is the reason Christians celebrate Easter. This Christian basis for the Easter holiday is talked about less frequently with the commercialisation of Easter as well a societal shift away from the Judeo-Christian foundation of Australia. Over the years, many historians have agreed on several points which authenticate this historical perspective of Easter.  To pique your interest, let’s revisit the word ‘Jesus’ to unpack the four main points substantiating Jesus’s resurrection.

Jesus was a historical man who walked the earth and crucified to death

Jesus is a man who was alive on this earth, just like you and me. A couple of facts pertaining to his existence are as follows:

  • Hundreds of references to Jesus Christ in New Testament manuscripts, with some creeds dating within three years of his death, which can be considered very reliable ancient manuscripts
  • Roman historian, Tacitus, documented that a man named Chrestus (Christ) lived during the first century

He also died a horrific death by crucifixion. It is important to note that he had to be completely dead for him to come back to life. Some have speculated that maybe Jesus did not completely die and therefore, never “rose from the dead”. Yet these facts question this theory:

  • The American Medical Association describes death on the cross by crucifixion as certain death by suffocation due to the treacherous way it was conducted
  • Roman soldiers were professional executioners who were documented to thrust a spear through Jesus’ side into his lungs and heart to ascertain his death

Empty tomb

Jesus’ tomb was empty- another indicator that he was no longer dead. The authorities of the day could not find his body to silence the people proclaiming he had come back to life. Some other evidence are as follows:

  • Multiple, Independent and early eyewitnesses- Three women reported seeing the empty tomb not long after Jesus’s burial. Roman guards also ascertained the empty tomb to authenticate what the women saw
  • The empty tomb was recorded independently across all ancient manuscripts of the four Gospels of the Bible

Seen by hundreds post mortem

There were independently documented post mortem appearances of Jesus to his followers as well as hundreds who didn’t follow him. Some of these documented appearances included appearing to his brother James and a religious leader named Paul, who was an avid persecutor of the Christian church.

Unparalleled explosion of the Christian church

After the documented resurrection, there was an explosion of early Christianity. The faith exploded out of first century Israel and spread rapidly to Europe, Africa and Asia. Why were the early Christians so firm in their beliefs? If their leader was dead, or if his death was faked, why would his followers willing to go to their deaths for the sake of the message of his resurrection? The sighting of their resurrected Christ would be an event of tremendous magnitude to turn scared and sceptical followers, with no prior concept of resurrection, into courageous proclaimers of a message they were willing to die for.

Significant

All the four points mentioned provide historical evidence towards Jesus’ death and resurrection. For Christians, Jesus holds personal significance as they see him as God, someone that gives them purpose and hope. In Western Society, His resurrection and teachings have had a significant impact our morals and fundamental structure of society. His life and teachings have impacted our moral beliefs towards the sanctity of life, equality, compassion, humility and many more. Today, Christian influences can still be observed in some aspects of the legal system, business, education, the arts and language. As the English Historian H.G. Wells once said: “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very centre of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”

Regardless of your religious beliefs (or none), I hope that some of the historical evidence surrounding the Christian basis of Easter has intrigued you to research this more. If the historical facts of Jesus checks out, it is worth considering. Have a happy Easter!

Esther Tseng

The author Esther Tseng

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