First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…

The Third Age begins with the birth of Abraham and continues up to David—according to the Hebrews 292 years, but according to the seventy interpreters 940 years. Here begins the history of our patriarchs, who worshipped the true God. Abraham, the father of many people, born of Terah in Ur of the Chaldees, was a wise man and a godly one, and the best informed in human affairs. He was the first to proclaim God as the Creator of all things, and compelled him to wander forth from Chaldea. He was led forth by his father from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran. And there he lived. And the Lord commanded Abraham, saying, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, and come into a land that I will show thee.[Genesis 12:1]

When Abraham returned from the slaughter of the five kings of Assyria, who had made Lot a prisoner, Melchizedek, king of Salem and the highest priest of God, came to meet him; and he offered bread and wine. And to him Abraham gave tithes of all the booty he had taken. And Melchizedek blessed Abraham for having subjugated his enemies. The Hebrews say that this Melchizedek was Shem, the first son of Noah, and who lived to Abraham’s time.

This mysterious stranger here suddenly emerges from the dim past, without ancestors and without descendants, "having neither beginning of days nor end of life." (Hebrews 7:3). His name and title are significant, "first being by interpretation, king of righteousness, and after that also king of Salem, which is king of peace." (Hebrews 7:2). From the earliest times there have been strange speculations as to this mysterious man. Some, like the chronicler, have identified him with Shem, supposing that survivor of the flood to have lived to Abraham’s time. But if so, why should his name have been changed to Melchizedek, and how could it be said of Shem, with Genesis 11:10-27 before us, that he was without pedigree? Perhaps the better view is to regard him as an exceptional instance in that early time of venerable Hamite, or perhaps, like Abraham, a Shemite, who had kept pure from the prevailing idolatry of the world, and was a worshipper of the true God.

Melchizedek has been held a suitable type of Christ as High Priest because (1) he was a king-priest, (2) his name means righteousness and he was king of Salem, which means "peace," (3) his birth and death remain unrecorded, and (4) he was not made a High-Priest by human appointment.

After this the Lord appeared to Abraham and foretold to him the birth of a son whom he would multiply to the number of stars in the heavens.

The beautiful Sarah was long barren, but when she attained the age of ninety she bore Isaac. Keturah, Abraham’s second wife, bore six sons, endowed with wisdom and industry. Abraham married her after Sarah’s death. The names of the sons are Zamram (Zimran), Jectan (Jokshan), Medan, Madian (Median), Jesboth (Ishbak), and Shuah (Sue). Hagar, the concubine of Abraham, was an Egyptian and Sarah’s handmaid; and by her Ishmael was born to Abraham. From Ishmael descended the Ishmaelites, later called the Hagarites, and finally called the Saracens. He and his mother were cast out of his father’s house, for

(A) Abraham and Melchizedek

Abraham (in a woodcut 5" x 8-3/8") is returning with his forces from the slaughter of the five kings. Melchizedek comes forth from his royal city to meet him, grateful for ridding the land of its invaders and oppressors. He is bringing forth bread and wine, general terms for food and refreshments, in token of his gratitude and of his appreciation of the services of the noble Hebrew. Abraham has stepped forward and already has the bread in hand. He is about to receive the wine. The abode of Melchizedek is represented as the typical medieval fortified city, and the king himself is coming forth in regal robes and wearing a crown. Although Abraham is not in fighting armor, his men, who stand back to the left, are accoutered head to foot in medieval helmets and armor, bearing shields, swords, lances and banners. They look upon the occasion with pride and watchful eyes.

(B) Lineage of Christ

The genealogies of the Third Age of the World begin with Abraham, third son of Terah, whom we left at Folio XXI recto. There and on the opposite page his descendants through his other two sons, Haran and Nahor, were portrayed. The branch representing Abraham was cut immediately below Terah’s portrait; and now that branch is presented.

Abraham himself is portrayed on Folio XXII recto by a panel 9-3/4" x 2-1/4", and from him to the opposite page proceed the branches of his family tree. And here we find the beautiful Sarah (Saray), Abraham’s first wife, but she is still barren, and Isaac will not appear until we reach Folio XXVI recto. At the opposite extreme of the main trunk appears Hagar (Agar), the handmaid of Sarah, and whom Abraham probably brought back with him after his sojourn in Egypt. From her proceeds Ishmael (Ismahel), ancestor of the Arabs, who is portrayed in a dual portrait with his wife. Much importance seems to have been attached to certain numbers in the ancient days, such as 3, 5, 7, 12, 40, etc. The number 12 was not uncommon in the development of tribal descents. According to Genesis 25:12-15, twelve little Arabs were born to Ishmael and his wife: Nebajoth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. Of these, only two examples are given in this genealogy, namely, Nebajoth (Nabaioth) and Kedar (Cedar).

Between the branches running to Sarah and Hagar appears a third one representing the issue of Abraham by Keturah (Cethura), whom he took to wife after the expulsion of Hagar and the death of Sarah. Of this marriage six children were born, all of whom are here portrayed: Zimran (Zamram); Jokshan (Jectan); Medan; Median (Madian); Ishbak (Yesboth), and Shuah (Sue).

Occasionally one encounters difficulty in identifying the names on these portraits. There are three general comparisons that may be made, involving the Chronicle itself, the King James Version of the Bible, and the Douay Version of the Vulgate. The Chronicle, written when it was, is Catholic in tendency and lore, and the inscriptions are often from the Vulgate. For purposes of investigation and identification, the course should be from Chronicle to Vulgate, and from Vulgate to King James Version. Of course the text of the Chronicle itself is also helpful in deciphering woodcut inscriptions that are often almost illegible.

This illustration, which comprehends fourteen portraits, is made up of three woodcuts: (1) the large portrait of Abraham, (2) a small woodblock of connecting branches, and (3) a woodcut measuring 7-1/8" x 8-13/16", containing Abraham’s issue through three channels, with the limitations already mentioned. The full length portrait of Abraham in oriental headdress and flowing robes is very striking and venerable. There is nothing distinctive about the minor portraits. However, one cannot help but marvel at the ingenuity and invention of the artists in cultivating, shaping and guiding these genealogical vines so as to comfortably accommodate the membral status of every family or tribe within the confines of the text page.

We are also struck by the manner in which these artists have solved the problem of presenting these portraits as individual parts of the family tree. All are bust pictures, produced by the interesting contrivance of placing each subject within the calyx of a flower in full bloom. And what a variety of flowers! In these floral pulpits stand the heirs, like so many preachers. In most cases this impression is accentuated because the incumbent is gesturing as if addressing a congregation.