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Roots Shoots Branches Fruit

A slow but deep and very purposeful meander through the past, exploring the emergence of Christian mystical theology and practice. 

Slow, because the journey will take three to four years. 

Purposeful, because each session is relatively self-contained and focuses on a small number of key texts or artefacts that tell the story. 

Deep because we go way back.  The theme of the first year is ‘Roots’ and we begin around 10,000 years before Christ, on the cusp of the Neolithic farming revolution in what is now Southeast Turkey.  Next stop: Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt… 


The aim is to provide a solid grounding in the near eastern mystical tradition(s) and the emergence of the Christian mystical tradition.

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ROOTS segment covers the period from the Bronze age down to the birth of Jesus (see sample outline below)

SHOOTS segment covers the 1st 3 centuries of the ‘common era’ and the varieties of early Christianity and adjacent traditions in the near east and mediterranean basin

BRANCHES segment cover from 4th to end of 8th century CE, the monastic movement, early Christianity in the west, the consolidation of orthodox gnosis, the golden age of the Syrian mystical school and the advent of Islam.


A unit may take more than one session, depending on what is desired.  Aim would be to provide a broad but well grounded historical overview, a bibliography for anyone who wants to pursue it further and then focus on a few key and illustrative texts (or archaeological material) that open up particular aspects relative to the overall aim.

Sample outline: ROOTS


1  MESOLITHIC to BRONZE (probably 2 sessions)

  • Historical overview:  Gobelki Tepe, Temple culture(s): Mesopotamia and Egypt; Related: Hittite, Phoenician and Canaanite; Incomers: Sea Peoples, semi-nomads, origins of ‘Israel’.

  • Focus 1: temples: priests, scribes, prophecy and divination

  • Focus 2: narratives of the gods and humanity, how wisdom came to be

  • Focus 3: cosmogony (how the world came into being), esp. Egypt.

  • Focus 4: journeys to the underworld etc.

  • Focus 5: the Mesopotamian ‘tree of life’



  • Historical overview – the outer historical narrative of Bible: Moses to Exile

  • Focus 1: Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel; who got to write the story….

  • Overview:  Babylon / Egypt and Persia; the return from exile; Judah and Samaria

  • Focus 2: universalising tendencies (texts from deutero-Isaiah)

  • Overview: the emergence of the Hebrew bible: Torah, Prophets and Writings



Historical overview:  High places and levitical Priests; the Temple(s); Aaronides, Zadokites and High Priests.

Focus 1:  Priestly functions and the Temple

Focus 2: Sages / Scribes and wisdom literature

Focus 3: Forms and functions of prophecy.



Historical overview:  Greece as part of ANE; Mycenae and Sea People’s; Greeks and  Babylon, Persia and Egypt

Focus 1: Mystery cults / Orphic and Bacchic

Focus 2: Wisdom (philosophy): Pre-Socratics; Pythagoras and Plato



(probably 2 sessions)

  • Historical overview – i) Alexander; Kandahar, Babylon, Egypt (Alexandria); Ptolemies and Seleucids; the Maccabean Revolt; coming of Rome

  • ii) Jewish schools and sects in the Hellenistic and Roman age (covenant renewal groups; Samaritans; Hasidim; Sadducees; Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots

  • Focus 1: Ideal figures and what they tell us:  (Moses, Aaron and Miriam; Joseph and Esther; Daniel; Levi; Enoch)

  • Focus 2: a 2nd century BCE sage Sirach

  • Focus 3:  the Wisdom of Solomon / Philo



  • Historical overview – was there an ‘Enochic Judaism’; introduction to the various books of Enoch

  • Focus: the portrayal of Enoch in the earlier texts and Jubilees



  • Josephus on the Essenes

  • Focus: Philo and his description of Therapeutae



  • Overview, Pliny, the Qumran settlement and scrolls, who were the community there?

  • Focus: key themes

    • Community as Temple

    • Angelic Participation / Praises

    • Revelation of mysteries / hidden wisdom (‘Apocalyptic’)

Sample Prospectus Year One - Roots

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