Three weeks ago I posted a picture of our boat trip, which was from Tiberias to Capernaum. You will notice that the spelling of Capernaum differs. The name comes from Kfer Naum. Kfer could also be Kafer, but means "village". Naum could also be Nahum. The name of Capernaum thus means "The village of Naum". Who Naum was, nobody knows, but the history buffs say it doesn't refer to the prophet Nahum. Wrong area, for that association.
Both pictures show the White Synagogue (limestone) that was later built over the synagogue where Jesus taught at the time of His stay in Capernaum. Synagogues were originally used as a sort of community hall where people got together, to interact. On the Sabbath the interaction would definitely be of a religious nature. More about this, at a later stage. In history, synagogues that are extravagent like the White Synagogue and sometimes even outright ostentatious, started to appear in Byzantyne times.
The main reason that I am showing these pictures, is to show how tightly packed the people in this city lived (with a population of around 1,500 it was a city, back then). There is some space around the synagogue and a single road from south to north just on the other side of the synagogue. This road was broad enough, for wagons to pass each other and was part of the trade route from Egypt to Babylon. There were also toll houses controlling entrance into Capernaum. That is where Matthew worked, before he was called as disciple.
In the jumble of excavated houses, it is difficult to discern the streets. They were just broad enough for a donkey laden with wood, to pass through. In general the roads among houses, were not very straight. Houses had door openings, but no doors. It would often occur that someone passing by, would stop in the doorway and strike up a conversation, even when the family was having a meal at the table. Now you can imagine, how it was when Jesus sat teaching in Peter's house in Capernaum. The narrow street thronged with people wanting to join the conversation or wanting to hear what Jesus said. It was not possible for the 4 men bringing the bedridden guy on a stretcher, to reach Jesus. Too much noise and no way to pass through. So they got up on the roof and hacked a hole in the roof, built of stone and whatever they used for mortar, at least one foot (30 odd centimeters) thick. Can you imagine Jesus sitting in the house, all the noise outside, people in the room in discussion with him and among themselves. Then somebody started to hammer away at the roof, one level higher. The Biblical version of this occasion, can be found in Mark 2.
During the settlement of Israel, the area of Capernaum was settled by Naphtali. Over time, the area became gentile land. First King Solomon gave twenty cities to king Hiram of Tyre and later the Israelites in this area were taken to Assyria as captives. So when Jesus ministered the area, there were only a few pockets of Jews and the rest were gentiles. His first stay in Capernaum, followed His baptism in the Jordan and the subsequent temptation. The Pharisees started a persecution that led to John the Baptist's arrest. See John 4 - the first few verses. He travelled a lot in that area, spreading his gospel and sometimes joined the fishers on water or travelled by boat.
Not long after this He returned to Nazareth, but the Pharisees were still after Him and wanted His demise. Luk 4:29 "And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. 30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way, 31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days." He never returned to Nazareth.