Did Jesus know how to read?

Did Jesus know how to read? Someone told me he was illiterate.

The vast majority of the population in Palestine in Jesus’ day would have been illiterate, with some historians suggesting that less than 10% of the population would have been able to read. Members of the peasant class, of which Jesus’ family would have been a part, rarely had the time or luxury of learning to read. That was usually only the privilege of the wealthy elite. However, Luke’s gospel narrates a story in which Jesus is said to have read publicly in the synagogue in Nazareth. “He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…’ (Lk 4:16-20) Other than this citation, there is a story in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas in which the boy Jesus was working with a teacher although he already knew how to read the Hebrew alphabet. So we have both a suggestion from Scripture and from another early Christian writing that Jesus was unusual for his time in having the ability to read. Yet we already knew he was an unusual human being.

Ann Naffziger

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.