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Items from Woodstock Library Rare Book Collection

Woodtock Library Rare Book Collection

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An Enormous Gift

 Torah Scroll

In this fourth post on our treasures, we highlight our Torah Scroll. 

Not only is the scroll itself magnificent but a special wooden case was made to house it. Upon the case is the following inscription, noting its donor and provenance:

פר׳ יר׳ ברנם הבלתימורי הבא ספר התורה הזה מירושלים ויתן לבת הזה בשנת ישועה יהוה אתעא

Fr[ancis] Yr' Barnum, the Baltimorian, brought this book of the Torah from Jerusalem and gave it this house in the year of the salvation of The LORD.

Wooden Case for TorahHebrew Engraving


Francis Barnum, S.J.The biographical note in the finding aid for the papers of  Francis Barnum, S.J. (1849-1921) gives an overview of Barnum’s contributions to the Society of Jesus. He joined the society in 1880 and was subsequently sent to Alaska where he studied and mastered Innuit (now Central Yup’ik). He eventually wrote  a grammar of Innut which was published in 1901. He came back to the East Coast in 1898, first working on Wardd’s Island, New York and then coming to Georgetown where he died in 1921. It was before Fr. Barnum entered the society that he gave the scroll to Woodstock College in 1871.

In 1869 Fr. Barnum traveled to Palestine. It is possible that in his papers documenting this trip, information exists surrounding his acquisition of our Torah Scroll (stay tuned!). There are conflicting dates of the manuscript. A description of the the scroll in volume 32 of the Georgetown University Library Associates from 1993 has the following text conjectures that the scroll “...seems to have been made in East Europe by a young scribe in the early nineteenth century. The scroll was given to Woodstock in 1871 by Francis J. Barnum...” But in Public Libraries in the United States, 1876  published the following is the description of what appears to be Barnum’s manuscript “a manuscript of the tenth century, parchment, written in Hebrew, being a scroll of the book of Moses, 97 feet long and 2 feet 10 inches wide, formerly used in a synagogue in Yemen."

Despite the different dating of the scroll, some nine centuries apart, Woodstock’s unique Torah scroll and it’s case is a testament to the collecting interests of the Jesuits and their commitment to preserving them.  

 Written by Amy Phillips