Which is why after you mentioned the boy Jesus in the temple I immediately went and pointed to that verse. I said I do not find it conclusive. It is the strongest single piece of evidence outside of his general “exegetical prowess” evinced throughout the Gospel record.
Meier writes (V1 Marginal)
If Jesus had been raised as an aristocratic intellectual in Rome or Ath- ens, or even in Jerusalem, it would be easier to speculate on the nature of his education and the level of literacy he achieved. However, he grew up in Nazareth, an insignificant village in the hills of Lower Galilee, a village so obscure that it is never mentioned in the OT, Josephus, Philo, or the early literature of the rabbis or the OT pseudepigrapha." Hence it is hard to decide what, if any, formal education would have been available to Jesus in such an environment. To put the question more bluntly: Could Jesus read or write? That he was an effective teacher is clear. But in an oral culture, one could theoretically be an effective teacher, especially of ordinary peasants, without engaging in reading or writing. So the question remains: Was Jesus literate or illiterate?
He then discusses three texts: John 8:6; John 7:15; and Luke 4:16-30.
John 8:6 is and inconclusive and tells us little. We have no idea what Jesus wrote or drew in the ground. Meier continues:
The second text proposed as proof of Jesus’ literacy is at least an original part of John’s Gospel. It presents “the Jews” who are gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of tabernacles marveling at Jesus and asking: “How does this fellow know Scripture when he has not studied?” (John 7:15). Actually, the phrase translated here as “know Scripture” could simply mean “know how to read” (grammata oiden). But the general context of the Jews’ question-Jesus’ disputing with the Jewish authori- ties (e.g., Chapters 5 and IO)-involves not his basic literacy but rather his use of Scripture in theological argumentation." Hence the demean- ing reference in 7:15 is not to Jesus’ failure to learn his ABCs but to his lack of formal education in Scripture under the guidance of some noted scholar-no doubt in Jerusalem! Interestingly, the comment, though hostile in the context of John 7, does reflect the general state of affairs presented throughout the Four Gospels: although Jesus never studied formally under any great rabbi, he was adept in the use of Scripture- which would seem to argue for more than a beginner’s knowledge of reading. Of the three NT texts proposed, this one at least provides some indirect basis for supposing that Jesus could read and comment on the Hebrew Scriptures.
On the third and most definitive text if true, Meier writes:
However, the sources and the historicity of the narrative in this pe-ricope are disputed. Some exegetes consider Luke’s scene a tradition from his special “L” source and hence an independent verification of
what the other Gospel traditions tell us about Jesus’ return to and preaching in Nazareth." However, it is also possible that Luke 4:16-30 simply represents Luke’s imaginative and colorful reworking of Jesus’ preaching and rejection at Nazareth as recounted in Mark 6:1-6a. A middle ground is also possible: the pericope shows Luke’s acquaintance with Mark, but some important elements come from Luke’s special source." Certainly the Lucan pericope is loaded with Lucan motifs; the highly symbolic scene functions as a programmatic preview of the course of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, resulting in the proc- lamation of the good news to the Gentiles." The clear presence of Luke’s redactional hand makes one wary.
Which is why I said in my first response to you: “Jesus reads Isaiah from a scroll somewhere as well. That can form a stronger argument but is inconclusive.”
Meier thinks Jesus possessed some form of literacy:
Being the firstborn son,“9 Jesus would have been the special object of Joseph’s attention, not only in the practical matter of teaching the son the father’s trade!” but also in teaching the son the religious traditions and texts of Judaism.13I To be sure, in a strongly oral culture,‘" a great deal could have been conveyed by word-of-mouth catechesis and memo- rization. Yet Jesus’ reported skill in debating interpretations of Scrip- ture and halaka with pious Pharisees, professional scribes, and Jerusa- lem authorities in both synagogue and temple would argue for some reading knowledge of the sacred texts, a reading knowledge imparted either directly by Joseph or by some more learned Jew procured for the purpose. Apart from Joseph, the most likely conduit of an education would be the synagogue at Nazareth, which could also have served as a sort of religious “elementary school.”'" If indeed Jesus did receive his first scriptural formation in the Nazareth synagogue, one can well un- derstand the emotionally charged atmosphere surrounding the return of the adult Jesus to that same synagogue to teach his peers and elders (Mark 6:1-00 parr.). The reaction of “Who does he think he is?” becomes quite understandable.134
To sum up: individual texts from the Gospels prove very little about the literacy of Jesus. Instead, it is an indirect argument from converging lines of probability that inclines us to think that Jesus was in fact liter- ate. As we have seen, general considerations about 1st-century Palestin- ian Judaism, plus the consistent witness of many different streams of Gospel tradition about Jesus’ teaching activity, plus the indirect evi- dence from John 7;15 make it likely that Jesus could both read the He- brew Scriptures and engage in disputes about their meaning. He there- fore enjoyed a fair degree of literacy in Hebrew and-a fortiori- Aramaic, the language he usually spoke.'" Thus, even if Luke 4;16-30 were totally a redactional reworking of Mark 6;I-6a, it would still be “true” in the sense that it depicts accurately the “sort of thing” Jesus did during his public ministry. It is sobering to realize, though, how here, as so often in Jesus research, we reach our conclusions not by direct, clear· cnt, indisputable texts, but rather by indirect arguments, inference, and converging lines of probability.
The natural conclusion from all this is that, sometime during his childhood or early adulthood, Jesus was taught how to read and ex- pound the Hebrew Scriptures. This most likely happened–or at least began-in the synagogue at Nazareth. Yet there is no indication of higher studies at some urban center such as Jerusalem, and indeed this seems explicitly denied in John 7;15. One therefore has to allow for a high degree of natural talent-perhaps even genius-that more than compensated for the low level of Jesus’ formal education.'"
He may be right but I don’t find his case convincing. Blind historical probability pushes us in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary to think he probably could not read but offers no way of demonstrating such. It does not have the tools needed to dissect history so finely.
Have a good afternoon,