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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Anglo-Saxon Gospels and Easter

William Tyndale was not the first English Bible translator to use ester/easter to translate the Greek word πασχα.[i] The West Saxon (or Wessex) Gospels are believed translated around AD 990. They use “Easter” (ēasterdaeges, ēastro, ēastron). They provide a bit of insight into the use of the word “Easter” to translate what we now more commonly (in English) call Passover. Below are selections of a verse from each Gospel, with the Anglo-Saxon, Wycliffe, and King James translations, respectively.

Matthew 26:2

  • Wite gē þæt æfter twām dagum bēod ēastro, and mannes Bearn byþ geseald þæt hē sī on rōde āhangen.
  • Ye witen, that aftir twei daies pask schal be maad, and mannus sone schal be bitakun to be crucified.
  • Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified.

Mark 14:16

  • Pā fērdon his leorningcnihtas, and cōmon on þā ceastre, and fundon hit eall swā hē sǣde, and gegearwodon þā ēastron.
  • And hise disciplis wenten forth, and camen in to the citee, and founden as he hadde seid to hem; and thei maden redy the pask.
  • And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.

Luke 2:41-42

  • And his māgas fērdon ǣlce gēre tō Hierusalem on ēasterdaeges frēolstīde. And þā hē wæs twęlfwintre, hӯ fōron tō Hierusalem tō þām ēasterlīcan frēolse æfter hyra gewunan;[ii]
  • And his fadir and modir wenten ech yeer in to Jerusalem, in the solempne dai of pask. And whanne Jhesus was twelue yeer oold, thei wenten vp to Jerusalem, aftir the custom of the feeste dai.
  • Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.

John 2:13

  • And hit wæs nēah Iudea ēastron, and sē Hǣlend fōr tō Ierusalem.
  • And the pask of Jewis was nyy, and Jhesus wente vp to Jerusalem.
  • And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,

James Wilson Bright, an English professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of An Anglo-Saxon Reader, et al., edited the four editions of the Wessex Gospels that are found on Archive.org. Bright explained, “The first English version of the Gospel [preceded] the Wiclifite Bible by four hundred years...”

For any who wish further investigate the Anglo-Saxon Gospels, you will be interested in the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online, which can be found HERE.


[i] Though these Gospels were probably translated from Latin rather than Greek. James Wilson Bright says that “the Latin manuscript used by the translator of this Gospel has not yet [1904] been identified...” However, it struck me that on one passage above – Luke 2:41-42 – it looks more like the KJV translated from the Greek, than Wycliffe translated from the Latin. (That is certainly only an impression, and contains no scholarship or research behind it.)
[ii] ēasterdaeges frēolstīde might be “transliterated” Easterday feast-tide or translated feast of Easter/Passover.

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