Since the discovery of the Dead Seas Scrolls in 1947, not to mention subsequent finds from similar caches, the Essenes have become and increasingly more prominent fixture in popular circles. The Essenes were a sect of Jews who broke away from mainstream Judaism beginning in the second century BC. It is possible that they descended from the Zadokite priests, whose tradition begin with a priest named Zadok in the 10th century BC. They existed in small groups on the fringes of Jewish society, less common than the other two major groups, the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Essens lived in monastic communities, believed in the immortality of the soul, devoting themselves to asceticism, abstinence from carnal pleasures, and poverty.
The most famous Essene community was, without a doubt, Qumran, on the western shores of the Dead Sea. Qumran dates to the middle of the 2nd century BC. The community was founded in order to preserve not only the Hebrew Bible, but also the apocryphal works of Jewish tradtion. Here, the Essenes sought to reform Judaism, which they believed had been corrupted by the temple priests. The means to accomplish this lay in controlling their tempers, fostering peace, ritual bathing, extended communal meals and fellowship, piety towards God, refusal to swear oaths, carrying weapons only for defense, and of course, a holding of strong apocalyptic belief in the judgment of the world and punishment of the unjust.
Sound familiar? Well, it should. Even if John the Baptist and Jesus were not directly involved with the Essenes, that they were influenced by this current of thought is clear. The apocalyptic tenor of Jesus' message is evident in the New Testament. When one considers the practices of Christians inherited from Jesus, one can't help but wonder at the connection. Food for thought, salve for the soul.