To learn of the death of a man who has prayed for one constantly is inevitably to experience a sense of spiritual loss; so it was when news reached me of the death of Professor S. H. Hooke on January 17, four days short of his 94th birthday.
In her biography of her father, Patricia St. John quotes an extract from an early diary of his: ‘Samuel Hooke shames me utterly when I see him so sober, quiet and powerful. He has been through the fire; I have only looked at it’ (p. 24). Referring to the same general period Fay Inchfawn in Those Remembered Days, tells how, when she and her family lived in Portishead, Samuel Hooke was their neighbour for a time and gave Bible readings at his home.
‘I was impressed by the burning zeal of the speaker. He had gathered quite a little coterie of folk who lived round about West Hill. One evening my sister and I arrived a little early for the meeting and found a young man with dark hair, a stranger to us, sitting at the speaker’s table. Mrs. Samuel came to welcome us. She said, “This is Samuel’s friend Harold St. John.” ... Two young men, still I should judge in their early thirties, combining together to open up the Scriptures. What zeal! What knowledge! Such could only be given to a personality prepared to expend time and attention freely. This was the kind of intensity my sister and I knew we should like to possess’ (pp. 77 f.).
Samuel Hooke was born and brought up among the Darbyite Exclusives. His father was a well-known preacher among them; his mother was of gentle birth — I imagine, though he never said so, that she was related to Lord Adalbert Cecil. Hooke remembered Lord Adalbert sitting in their home knitting socks! He also remembered, as a boy, listening to J. N. Darby preaching - and incidentally chaffing a brother in the front row over his gold watch-guard. He recalled how bitterly his father wept the morning news came of Darby’s passing. When the Raven division took place in 1890, the Hookes remained with the ‘Lowe’ party that objected to F. E. Raven’s Apollinarianism.
During my years as a member of Cemetery Road Meeting Room, Sheffield (now Lansdowne Chapel), I knew some elderly friends who remembered Hooke’s visits there in his earlier days—for the best of all good reasons, for it was there he found his first wife. Fay Inchfawn describes her as ‘a delightful person with a north country accent’ who ‘was entirely in sympathy with her husband’s aim to introduce the Saviour to everyone with whom he had contact’. I also met one or two people who had been baptized by him — as infants, it must be acknowledged, for his circle practised household baptism.
Not until he was in his thirties and married did the opportunity come for him to embark on an undergraduate career. He became a member of Jesus College, Oxford, and gained all the academic honours that were open to him. A college magazine of those days contained the limerick:
There is a disciple of Mott, Who looks like a don but is not; He went in, when at Coll., For each prize and each schol., And succeeded in bagging the lot.
During his Oxford days he broke with Exclusivism and joined the Church of England, being confirmed by Bishop Gore. But to the end of his days he gave evidence of the rock from which he was hewn — not least in his amazing mastery of the text of Scripture. In this respect there was little to choose between him and Harold St. John. He remained a layman throughout his life, but this did not prevent his serving as Examining Chaplain to his friend Neville Gorton when the latter was Bishop of Coventry.
From Oxford he went in 1914 to Toronto as Professor of Oriental Languages, and later (193145) he occupied the Samuel Davidson Chair of Old Testament Studies in the University of London. Retirement meant no diminution of his activity; from 1956 to 1961 he was Speaker’s Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Oxford, at the age of 84 he served an energetic spell as visiting professor in the University of Ghana and four years later he lectured in the University College of Rhodesia on the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient
Babylonian religion. From 1933 to 1956 he edited the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, and on relinquishing that responsibility took the liberty of nominating me as his successor. In middle life his faith went through a period of severe testing, but emerged from the crucible more vigorous than ever.
He has a long list of publications to his credit, beginning in 1910 and continuing to 1967. His latest work, a study of The Resurrection of Christ as History and Experience, makes the efforts of some bright young theologians of today look sadly half-baked by comparison. On October 25 last he wrote to me: ‘I have a longing to write something about the Gospel of John, but must wait and see if it is permitted ... I feel that the form-critical approach is becoming barren, and may be on the way out.’
His most popular publication is no doubt his rendering of The Bible in Basic English (1949), in which he was assisted by the second Mrs. Hooke. Indeed, I have an idea that it was their cooperation in this project that ripened into marriage.
His intellectual powers remained unimpaired to the end, and his spiritual insight seemed to become more penetrating year by year. But at last his exceptional physical strength began to fail: ‘I go on working’, he wrote towards the end of 1966, ‘though longing for the rest that remaineth for the people of God.’ He died very peacefully, chatting to his wife and holding her hand. She is assured of the warm sympathy of many who esteemed her husband as a wise mentor and loved him as a dear friend.