In his commentary on Matthew 1, John MacArthur gives us some interesting facts regarding the history of certain pagan traditions that have crept into the life of the church. I pass these along for your pondering.
Nimrod, a grandson of Ham, one of Noah’s three sons, founded the great cities of Babel (Babylon), Erech, Accad, Calneh, and Nineveh (Gen. 10:10–11). It was at Babel that the first organized system of idolatry began with the tower built there. Nimrod’s wife, Semiramis, became the first high priestess of idolatry, and Babylon became the fountainhead of all evil systems of religion. In the last days, “the great harlot” will have written on her forehead, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH ” (Rev. 17:5). When Babylon was destroyed, the pagan high priest at that time fled to Pergamum (or Pergamos; called “where Satan’s throne is” in Rev. 2:13) and then to Rome. By the fourth century a.d. much of the polytheistic paganism of Rome had found its way into the church. It was from that source that the ideas of Lent, of Mary’s immaculate conception, and of her being the “queen of heaven” originated. In the pagan legends, Semiramis was miraculously conceived by a sunbeam, and her son, Tammuz, was killed and was raised from the dead after forty days of fasting by his mother (the origin of Lent). The same basic legends were found in counterpart religions throughout the ancient world. Semiramis was known variously as Ashtoreth, Isis, Aphrodite, Venus, and Ishtar. Tammuz was known as Baal, Osiris, Eros, and Cupid.
Those pagan systems had infected Israel centuries before the coming of Christ. It was to Ishtar, “the queen of heaven,” that the wicked and rebellious Israelite exiles in Egypt insisted on turning (Jer. 44:17–19; cf. 7:18). While exiled in Babylon with his fellow Jews, Ezekiel had a vision from the Lord about the “abominations” some Israelites were committing even in the Temple at Jerusalem-practices that included “weeping for Tammuz” (Ezek. 8:13–14). Here we see some of the origins of the mother-child cult, which has drawn Mary into its grasp.
John MacArthur, Matthew (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 5.