This is my 3rd versions in the sects series. This image is large and may not be laying out clearly on your browser. This link is to a vector graphics version link to download or view isolated. I had originally put this image together up to about the year 1000 for a debate on Christian origins. I got inspired to expand when I had to discuss origins of the Reformation and ideas from it. I think this is a useful reference post, and also might lead to some good discussion. Something like the above is likely what happened.
At this point the chart covers the origins of the those sects that were fundamental to the development of American Christianity, going all the way back. Arrows are for strong influence or descent, these sects are interacting with one another and passing ideas between them just as religions today do. Coloring of the arrows is to help reduce visual complexity, and it doesn't mean anything beyond that. Where possible I've tried to include a sample work in parenthesis for each sect making it clear how I'm using the term and also demonstrating at a glance the evolution in thought. It is also for the early part, letting the chart do double duty explicating the origins of the bible.
In terms of the colors of the circles:
Salmon is for groups that are Jewish sects. They may have Christian aspects but they are not yet meaningfully Christian, they are most senses fundamentally Jewish or Samaritan.
Light Blue are proto-Christianities.
Yellow are full blown alternate Christianities, from ancient times. "Gnosticism" used in the religious sense.
Purple is for groups that I can meaningfully call Catholic, western or eastern rite.
Pink groups that broke away Catholicism. Sects that I would agree are "schismatic".
Dark Olive Green non-Christian religions.
Yellow-Green is for non-Christian groups with strong Christian influence.
Muddy Pink I'm using for Hermetic Christianity.
Dark-Brown for proto-Protestantism
Red-Brown for Protestantism
Magenta for the non-creedal sects of the Radical Reformation and their descendants
In terms of the history it presents the following structure of development:
Hellenistic Judaism: When Alexander invades Judea, Judaism starts to fragment. When the Maccabees come to power they institute religious persecution and send fringe jewish movements all over the Roman Empire. After the Romans gain control these fringe movements roll back into Palestine.
Gnostic Judaism: As (from Jewish perspectives) the promises of Yahweh in terms of national salvation failed to be fulfilled many of these fringe movements begin to spiritualize or eschatologize these promises and begin experimenting with different ways of conceptualizing the Jewish scriptures. We can call this Their are aspect of what will later become Christianity in their theogy but they still mostly Jewish. We can call this Gnostic Judaism but there are non Gnostic sects like Hermetic Jews that are also part of these groups.
Jewish Christianity: These sects begin to interact with one another and try and unify their theologies. They are at this point starting to diverge from Judaism heavily become a full blown schismatic religion. These schismatic forms of Judaism are much more attractive to non-Jews, especially "god fearers" which were quite often the products of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews or marginal Jews. These Jewish-Christians sects grow to become the dominant forms of Christianity. (this in answer to the earlier question is where Paul comes in). As an aside the defining characteristic of Jewish Christianity is a strong degree of emotion tied to the Jewish God, some Jewish Christian sects will over the next two centuries become increasing negative about his role, considering him a liar that tricked them into destructive wars and a false religion.
Catholicism and Manichaeism Judaism is almost entirely annihilated in the three Jewish Roman wars between 66 and 134 CE. Christianity begins to appeal to slaves and the lower classes even among people with little Jewish association. It becomes a religion loosely based on Jewish Christianity which lays claim to the entire deposit of faith calling itself "Catholicism". Meanwhile the Jewish Christian sects come into contact with other faith traditions like Persian Buddhism that allow them to reconceptualize their faith and evolve into a few non-Christian Gnostic forms the most popular being Manichaeism.
Roman Catholicism: The Catholic church offers a system for unifying religion having just recently pulled together the different strands of Christianity into a single whole. It is first fought against and then adopted by the Roman state. It fails to unify the people's fast enough to benefit the Roman empire, but is able to unify then during the next 400 years becoming one of the main the vehicle by which Western Culture survived the Dark Ages. It overcomes most other forms of Christianity completely overturning Arianism in the north and leaving remaining Pockets of Christianity which are closer to the original forms existing only in fragments of the Byzantine empire.
proto-Protestantism: As the Byzantine empire falls to Islam these alternative Christianities and early writings are rediscovered in the West and start to change people's outlook on their relationship with God. Western forms of Christianity which are theologically closer to Jewish Gnosticism start to emerge and hybrids of those "European Gnostic sects" and Catholicism form.
Protestantism: Religions reformers, political reformers who want a more nationalist church and the radical reformers who hate the Catholic church and want to found a new church agree to work together. The elements the Protestant Reformation are very old with the Cathari and the Beguines as the father and mother of the reformation, Christian Humanism playa an important role and everything develops from the 13th century combination of: primitivism, a desire for a lay church and a theological neo-Gnosticism lite. In America the ideas of the Radical Reformation spread and become the dominant form.
In terms of remaining issues there are two that bother me. The first is that the Catholic section is terrible. Originally the chart just covered Catholic development up to the ancient world, so I only needed a 1/2 dozen Catholic sects. This one covers Catholicism in the middle ages, so to do it justice I'd probably need over a 100 sects and the diagram would be a sea of purple with a border in the other colors. I think top priority for the next round, is a full treatment of the origins of the Eastern Sects.
The other is I'm not sure about the Ebionites and the Elkasaites. If anyone has any suggestions there about the relationship please jump in. I think I'm going to need to jump into some Dead Sea Scrolls material to work this out. And of course any other suggestions are welcome.