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Brigham Young University Studies Vol. 17 (1976 — 1977)
In the 130 years since the word “folklore” was coined, folklorists have been trying unsuccessfully to decide what the word means. I shall not solve the problem here. Yet if we are to do business with each other, we must come to some common understanding of terms. Briefly, I consider folklore to be the unofficial part of our culture. When a Sunday School teacher reads to his class from an approved lesson manual, he is giving them what the Correlation Committee at least would call official religion; but when he illustrates the lesson with an account of the Three Nephites which he learned from his mother, he is giving them unofficial religion. Folklore, then, is that part of our culture that is passed through time and space by the process of oral transmission(by hearing and repeating) rather than by institutionalized means of learning or by the mass media.
The Book of Mormon contains an interesting historical and religious record covering the period from before 2,000 B.C. to A.D. 400 Internal reconstruction of Book of Mormon geography shows that the specific events mentioned in the book probably took place in those parts of Mexico and Guatemala known as Mesoamerica; it was also in Mesoamerica that many of the great ancient American civilizations once flourished. Records were kept by the people of those civilizations, in addition to the book translated by Joseph Smith, and certain of the Prophet’s detractors claim that he had access to those records and “was familiar with the advanced state of the native civilizations in Central and South America as well as the relics of the early inhabitants of western New York because of the many books available on these topics,” further asserting that the Book of Mormon is simply a fanciful rewriting of already available material.The question having been raised, it is instructive to look at what substantial, authentic information on pre–A.D. 400. Mesoamerican history was available in western New York in 1829.
In most forms of Gnosticism secret oral tradition is often associated with accounts of the creation of the world, the experiences of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and the fall of man. It is usually in this creation setting or in a temple or on a mountaintop that Gnosticism places the revelation of the esoteric mysteries and the knowledge needed to thwart the archontic powers and return to God.
Gnosticism is primarily concerned with the questions, Who am I? Where am I from? and What is my destiny? That the answers to these questions are often associated with the creation, the Garden, and the fall of man is probably due to the Gnostic presupposition that the end of all things is to be found in their beginning. Of those documents which manifest this concern, the Nag Hammadi Apocalypse of Adam is perhaps the prime example.