Streeter, Burnett Hillman
- L. W. Grensted
- , revised by Robert Brown
Streeter, Burnett Hillman (1874–1937), biblical scholar, was born at Croydon on 17 November 1874, the only son of John Soper Streeter, solicitor, and his wife, Marion Walker. He was educated at King's College School in London, and from 1893, when he went up to Oxford with a classical scholarship at Queen's College, his life was that of a typical Oxford don. Queen's College claimed practically the whole of his academic loyalty: he became successively fellow, dean, and praelector (1905), chaplain (1928), and provost (1933). The only break was from 1899 to 1905, when he was fellow and dean of Pembroke College, Oxford. In 1910 he married Irene Louisa (d. 1937), daughter of Captain Edward Cuthbert Brookes Rawlinson, formerly of the Bengal cavalry, and then living at Slough. The marriage was childless.
Streeter's academic career was brilliant, with a first class in classical moderations (1895), literae humaniores (1897), and theology (1898), and a series of theological prizes and scholarships. It was his work at this time that laid the foundation of his studies in the New Testament, but he himself would probably have regarded the philosophy of religion as his main interest, viewing the various fields into which his inquiring mind was led as all subsidiary to the one central theme of the interpretation and presentation of religion in the modern world. The background of this was his intense concern and care for people. Although never of strong physique he rowed for his college as an undergraduate, and throughout his life retained an interest both in rowing and in undergraduates which was very closely linked in his mind with his academic work. His numerous writings were, in almost every case, conceived and written with the student world in view.
It was this pastoral and human interest which led Streeter to be ordained in 1899, despite the fact that his faith had always something of the character of a quest. He was more than once attacked as a modernist (especially after his editing of and contribution to Foundations: a Statement of Christian Belief in Terms of Modern Thought in 1912) but the obvious sincerity of his religion and its practical applicability to human problems were a sufficient answer, and the attacks were never pressed far. He was, indeed, a regular speaker and a most popular figure at Student Christian Movement conferences. This same interest in movements of thought and the search for a vital answer to the problems of life led him to undertake lengthy visits abroad. He made two long tours in China and Japan, lecturing both there and in India, and he visited the United States of America several times.
Streeter was one of the most distinguished New Testament scholars of his day, and a man beloved and respected by many generations of Oxford undergraduates. But apart from his Oxford life few honours came his way, although he was a member for nearly fifteen years (1922–37) of the archbishops' commission on doctrine in the Church of England, and was also appointed to a canonry in Hereford Cathedral, which he held from 1915 to 1934. This latter office led to the writing of one of his most interesting and most learned books, The Chained Library (1931), a study that revealed his astonishing power of assimilating large masses of detail about a subject quite remote from those which had already made him famous. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1925 and an honorary fellow of Pembroke College in 1933. He was Dean Ireland's professor of exegesis from 1932 to 1933, and received the honorary degree of DD from the universities of Edinburgh, Durham, and Manchester.
Probably Streeter's best work was that on the New Testament, which attracted worldwide attention. He entered the front rank of scholars with his essay in the Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem (1911). This gave weight to the case for the priority of St Mark's gospel and the existence of Q. It was followed in 1924 by The Four Gospels: a Study of Origins, which, in its day, was an authoritative treatment of the problems of New Testament criticism. In particular he developed two new hypotheses of great importance: he argued in favour of an early Caesarean text of the gospels and of an original source behind St Luke's gospel in its present form. The great value of his work lies in its entirely first-hand character. Whether he was dealing with chained libraries or with the gospels and the manuscripts, he went direct to the sources and owed very little to the work of other scholars.
Streeter's other writings, some of which had a very large circulation, were in part essays in apologetics and the philosophy of religion—such as Reality: a New Correlation of Science and Religion (1926) and his Bampton lectures, The Buddha and the Christ (1932)—and in part contributions to composite volumes of essays. The earliest of the latter, and that which caused the most stir, was Foundations, a work which, when it was published, seemed to some critics alarmingly modernist, a judgement which time has reversed. A modern authority has indeed characterized Streeter, and other British biblical scholars, as 'of immense biblical and patristic learning but of rather little sustained theological skill' (Hastings, 231).
In his closing years, after he had become provost of Queen's and a scholar with a worldwide reputation, Streeter joined, with Mrs Streeter, in the work of the movement founded by Dr Frank N. D. Buchman which was widely known as the Oxford Group. It was as they were returning on 10 September 1937 from Switzerland, where Streeter had spent a long convalescence with some of the Oxford Group's members, that their aeroplane crashed into a mountain at Waldweide, Waldenburg, near Basel, in a fog, and he and his wife were killed.
- The Times (13 Sept 1937)
- Queen's College Record (Nov 1937)
- Oxford (winter 1937)
- private information (1949)
- personal knowledge (1949)
- F. L. Cross, ed., Oxford dictionary of the Christian church, 3rd edn, ed. E. A. Livingstone (1997)
- P. Hinchliff, God and history: aspects of British theology, 1875–1914 (1992)
- A. Hastings, A history of English Christianity, 1920–1990, 3rd edn (1991)
- CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1938)
- Bodl. Oxf., corresp. and papers relating to chained libraries
- Queen's College, Oxford, theological notes
- BL, corresp. with Macmillans, Add. MSS 55102–55105
- P. Macdonald, photograph, 1900–1905, Pembroke College, Oxford
- D. Harmood Banner, oils, 1929, Queen's College, Oxford
- Draw, caricature drawing, Queen's College, Oxford
Wealth at Death
£24,669 5s. 1d.: probate, 10 Feb 1938, CGPLA Eng. & Wales