TWH: Regarding the ritualistic pools found at Qumran, I thought I would add a short quote from Seán Freyne's piece entitled "Jewish Immersion and Christian Baptism: Continuity on the Margins." It reads as follows:
"While there are significant differences among scholars with regard to the precise number of miqvehs within the settlement complex, there is a general agreement that some at least of the cisterns were for ritual purposes, while others were by necessity storage pools for domestic and industrial use in such a barren location (Fig. 24). Despite these differences of opinion, our knowledge of Qumran ritual practices is much more detailed than is the case with the overall situation in Judea in the same period. It is generally recognized that many stepped pools/miqva'oth throughout the land do indeed date to the Second Temple period. Yet, as noted previously, the literary evidence, mainly tractate Miqva'oth in the Mishnah, is to be dated to a much later time (2/3rd century CE), and in many cases it may reflect the legal imagination of the Rabbis rather than the earlier historical situation, as previously mentioned. A key question that the Qumran evidence raises, therefore, is whether it can be used to document a more general attitude to purity, or whether it reflects a particular focus of the inhabitants of the settlement because of their close ties with and desire to replicate the temple in their community life. Can a consideration of the water installments at the site assist?" (233)
"The archaeologist of Khirbet Qumran, Roland de Vaux, was originally of the opinion that all the water installations were functional in terms of the daily living condition of the inhabitants, even though he did allow later for the possibility that some may have been for ritual purposes. Further investigation of the water system as a whole, including the aqueduct and the internal channels connecting various pools, especially those with steps convinced scholars that the majority of the pools were indeed intended for ritual practices, as the scrolls had indicated. An important study by Benjamin Wood came to the conclusion that the large cisterns without steps could supply domestic needs of the community at the different phases of its occupation from the late 2nd century BCE to the abandonment of the site after the first revolt in 73 CE. The proportion of stepped pools to those without steps was in the ratio of 2/1 throughout the different phases of the settlement's existence convinced Wood that ritual washing was a very important aspect of the community's daily life. Thus, e.g., when two pools from period 1b were seriously damaged by the earthquake of 31 BCE, the subsequent inhabitants made up for the loss of these two pools by dividing a large one into two separate pools, even though now one must have functioned as a storage pool, since there are no steps, but also no sign of a connecting pipe." (233-234)You can find Freyne's chapter in the book Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity, edited by David Hellholm, Tor Vegge, Øyvind Norderval, and Christer Hellholm (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), pages 221-253.
What Antonio points out is really interesting. John's ministry would have caught people's attention from all over the region. The concept of "baptism" was not foreign to anyone in the first century. But John's ministry stood in stark contrast to everything that was going on in Israel during that time. John was the forerunner to the Messiah. He functioned not as an arm of any Essenic community. And he most certainly was not doing anything that pleased the Sadduccees and Pharisees. The latter sent their envoys out to John not out of curiosity, but because John's ministry stood in direct contrast to what was taking place in Jerusalem. If there was any question, John's reaction when he sees them cues us in: "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?' (Matt. 3:7).
We do not have any record of Essenes or inhabitants of the Qumran community coming out to witness what John was doing. We do see the Pharisees and the Sadduccees, and we see John's response. Is it possible anyone from Qumran came out? Certainly. What would John's response have been to them? This is my own opinion here, but I'd bet whatever is in my bank account his message would have been unaltered. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven . . . ." And he would have expected them to meet the only criteria for baptism in the Jordan, that is the confession of sins, the outward sign of their repentance.
There are a number of other differences between the baptism we see with John and the ritualistic washings that were taking place in Qumran and in Jerusalem (and there are other places). There is no indication, for example, of washing taking place with John's baptism. The only action accompanying a person's immersion in water by John is the confession of sins.
It is really interesting to note that these baptismal pools were deep, with steps even. Dipping, pouring, sprinkling, etc. were not what constituted a baptism in these locales. You got all the way in the water. (I had to throw that in there, a good Baptist that I am.)