Ben Witherington has written a short series of blog posts (part 1, 2, and 3) on the question of literacy in first-century Israel. He makes an important point that is often overlooked in these discussions: There is a difference between being able to converse in a language, read a language, and write a language. By today’s standards, literacy in a language refers to the ability to both read and write a language. But if we apply this standard to antiquity—particularly to the Jewish people— we will minimize the number of people who were truly literate since many could read, but few could write.
Could Jesus read? Yes. The Jewish literacy rates were higher than the Greco-Roman world because of the Jews’ strong emphasis on male education for purposes of Torah-reading. Furthermore, Jesus was not a peasant. His family were artisans, and they owned land. Evidence that Jesus could read is as follows: