In Bible times, as today, some people could read and some could not, but the ability to read may have been far more widespread than many persons have imagined. (Compare Isaiah 29:11, 12.) In fact, The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion says: “Literacy seems to have been widespread in ancient Israel.”
God’s commands were to be written upon the doorposts and tied on the hands—acts that would have had little value to people who could not read. (Deuteronomy 6:8, 9; 27:8) The king was to write his own copy of the law and read in it daily. (Deuteronomy 17:15, 18, 19) A young man of Succoth wrote the names of the leading men of his town.—Judges 8:14.
Reading and writing were not limited to the educated class. In his commentary on the book of Judges, James D. Martin wrote that “some of our earliest evidence for alphabetic writing was scratched on cave walls by slaves in the mines of Sinai.” Amos was a humble sheep raiser. Micah was a rural prophet from the village of Moresheth. (Amos 1:1; Micah 1:1) Yet both wrote books of the Bible.
The apocryphal book of First Maccabees, likely written about the latter part of the second century B.C.E., indicates that people had copies of the Law in their houses. (1 Maccabees 1:55-57) The Jewish historian Josephus stated his first-century view that the Law orders that children “shall be taught to read, and shall learn both the laws and the deeds of their forefathers.”—Against Apion, II p. 375 (25).