What a great topic you introduced! Especially the adoption of traditions from the past by new movements that seem to personalize those same traditions, making them a part of their own history and religion.
By the way, a part of the American form of government was inspired by the "five nations" up around where you lived, if the story is true.
Anyhow, I wanted to make a quick remark about some of your examples. Not for what they mentioned, but for what they didn't mention. You wrote:
Take, for example, Joseph Smith’s teaching of Mormonism, which gave the people of his time a new connection to the biblical era. Smith’s story of discovering tablets from one of the lost tribes of Israel gave the Mormons freedom to adopt and remake the Old and New Testament heritage into a new story. If we look at it like this, we can see how The Book of Mormon became for them, emotionally, a religious sequel to The Bible, which allowed them to take that heritage on as their life. Their march West to find their promised land became an historical experience.
Of course, Christianity itself adopted – in fact some say they stole – Jewish heritage wholesale and claimed it as theirs. Later, Islam introduced another act to this play, rewriting the story of Jewish and Christian prophets again, including who Jesus was. All of these groups made the new teaching their own, and they felt fully justified in ownership of their new religion, while asserting a genuine connection to ancient traditions.
I believe the borrowing goes back farther than "Christianity". The "Jews" brought a host of learned traditions and stories with them, when they returned from Babylonian captivity. Elements from foreign lands entered "Jewish" religion, too. There are many facets to the "give and take", in my opinion.
Sometimes borrowing amounts to a people picking up what they lost, or what they abandoned generations ago. This is, perhaps, another facet about "borrowing" that I would like to introduce. It's as if to say that borrowing can go "both ways". A people could sacrifice their own cultural heritage in favor of something perceived to be new and better. What seems "new" to them, however, could very well turn out to be something they (as a people) sacrificed ages ago, or forgot. It might only be what is coming back to them by another agency, by those who preserved knowledge, or who didn't forget. Borrowing" is dynamic, I believe. In some ways like the way genes are used by living species. Including that often misunderstood "junk" DNA. Perhaps the "back and forth", or "give and take" is more like a circle ("Cirle of Life"?) than a pendulum. I don't know.
Here is another example of borrowing going the other way (which could seem more like surrender). Sometimes loss of tradition enters a community by force, as with conversion by a foreign invader, even while native people's do partially manage to personalize the "new" religion. Examples of this are found with Christianity and Catholicism, practiced in foreign lands, where native elements "come to the surface" where they could not be totally removed.
Add the concept of "universal principles", or "universal knowledge" existing independent from differnt forms of "clothing" (symbols) used to dress it, and I think what is "central" to any person and culture is probably something
that was "with them" all along. Like plants waiting for the proper seasons (conditions) in which to grow, or like the miracle ingredients inside a placebo
In spite of conversions, repressions, wars and changing religions ... perhaps there IS something which remains
alive all the while. Like a forest that continually manages to renew itself. By itself! And from itself!
After I read the topic here, this was something I saw "coming up in my own yard", so to speak. I wonder if it's been growing somewhere else, too (some of these ideas)? Or, what else might come out of this topic?