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The creation myths of the Abrahamic religions declares humanity's protoplasts to be Adam and Eve. Norse lore declares them to be Ask and Embla.

Linguistically, these seem to be fairly similar names. Is there actually a connection there, or is it just a coincidence?

  • 'b' and 'v' are very similar, but I don't see how to evolve Ask into Adam or vice versa. The only common part is a vowel which is the most fragile in transformations. – luser droog Apr 28 '15 at 17:46
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    Is this about linguistics or whether these myths have a common origin? If it's the latter you should make that more clear and only mention the linguistics in passing. – fredsbend May 2 '15 at 5:22
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I found an interesting site for comparing names. I can't trace the exact source(s) used for all four names, but the references given for the entire site may prove useful (and impossible to scroll through, admittedly).

  • Adam: Originally from the Hebrew אדם, "'adam", meaning "man".
  • Eve: Originally from the Hebrew חַוָּה, "chawwah", derived from חוה,"chawah", meaning "to breathe", or חיה, "chayah", meaning "to live".
  • Ask: Originally from the Old Norse "askr", meaning "ash tree".
  • Embla: Originally from the Old Norse "almr", meaning "elm". The origin of "Embla" is less certain; other scholars give it as "water pot".

Old Norse is, at heart, an Indo-European language. Hebrew, on the other hand, is an Afro-Asiatic language. Given that these two families are extremely different, it appears that their last common ancestral language would have to be millennia ago. Old Norse dates back less than 1,000 years ago, while Hebrew, from its earliest forms, is about 3,000 years old.

There seems to be no connection.

However, as Dolda2000 writes, Christianity existed in Scandinavia prior to the writing down of some of these tales, although perhaps not before their inception.

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    While I agree that they are etymologically unrelated, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they are mythologically related. As far as I know (though I could very well be wrong), Ask and Embla are first attested in the Edda, which is from the 13th century, and generally shows traces of Christian influence, and I wouldn't even be too surprised if the first letters were "chosen" to match. – Dolda2000 May 10 '15 at 20:40
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First, note that the first known mention of Ask and Embla is in the Völuspá, in the Poetic Edda:

  1. Then from the throng | did three come forth,
    From the home of the gods, | the mighty and gracious;
    Two without fate | on the land they found,
    Ask and Embla, | empty of might.

  2. Soul they had not, | sense they had not,
    Heat nor motion, | nor goodly hue;
    Soul gave Othin, | sense gave Hönir,
    Heat gave Lothur | and goodly hue.

  3. An ash I know, | Yggdrasil its name,
    With water white | is the great tree wet;
    Thence come the dews | that fall in the dales,
    Green by Urth's well | does it ever grow.

Source:Völuspá, The Poetic Edda, tr. Henry Adams Bellows 17-19

Obviously, it's difficult to analyze the comparative nature of a question like this without being a well versed scholar in the authorship of the original myths. Fortunately, Henry Adams Bellows has already done such an analysis in the introduction to the Völuspá:

This final passage, in particular, has caused wide differences of opinion as to the date and character of the poem. That the poet was heathen and not Christian seems almost beyond dispute; there is an intensity and vividness in almost every stanza which no archaizing Christian could possibly have achieved. On the other hand, the evidences of Christian influence are sufficiently striking to outweigh the arguments of Finnur Jonsson, Müllenhoff and others who maintain that the Voluspo is purely a product of heathendom. The roving Norsemen of the tenth century, very few of whom had as yet accepted Christianity, were nevertheless in close contact with Celtic races which had already been converted, and in many ways the Celtic influence was strongly felt. It seems likely, then, that the Voluspo was the work of a poet living chiefly in Iceland, though possibly in the "Western Isles," in the middle of the tenth century, a vigorous believer in the old gods, and yet with an imagination active enough to be touched by the vague tales of a different religion emanating from his neighbor Celts.

Source:Völuspá, The Poetic Edda, tr. Henry Adams Bellows, Intr.

This suggests to me that, even though the author was decidedly not a Christian, it is entirely possible, and even likely, that the author used the Adam and Eve myth as inspiration for the Ask and Embla story. Note also that Ask and Embla were created out of trees (Ash and Elm), reminscient of the Garden of Eden but giving it an Icelandic spin.

  1. Here the poem resumes its course after the interpolated section. Probably, however, something has been lost, for there is no apparent connection between the three giant-maids of stanza 8 and the three gods, Othin, Hönir and Lothur, who in stanza 17 go forth to create man and woman. The word "three" in stanzas 9 and 17 very likely confused some early reciter, or perhaps the compiler himself. Ask and Embla: ash and elm; Snorri gives them simply as the names of the first man and woman, but says that the gods made this pair out of trees.

Source:Völuspá, The Poetic Edda, tr. Henry Adams Bellows, 17 footnotes

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