A golden halo glows behind the head of John the Baptist in this detail from an icon preserved in a Kiev museum. Originally found in the St. Catherine Convent, Mount Sinai, the icon may have been painted in Alexandria, Egypt, probably in the sixth century.

Like the Essene’s Teacher of Righteousness, John was a prophet who separated himself from the Jerusalem priesthood and preached a message that was not believed by most of the people (Matthew 21:32). Both John and the Essenes opposed the sacrificial cult of the Temple, believed in the power of repentance to cleanse the soul, ascetically practiced the laws of purity and believed that the final judgment would come soon. These and other parallels lead professor Otto Betz to suggest that John the Baptist was at least raised in the Essene tradition.