The SBL Handbook of Style prescribes different citation conventions for Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries than it does for theological lexicons and dictionaries.1

Zotero can handle both citation types. To get the proper output, you just need to:

  1. Install an updated version of the SBL citation style and
  2. Input information into your Zotero database properly.

1. Install an Updated Version of Zotero’s SBL Citation Style

From Zotero’s style repository, you can install the “Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note)” style.

This style, like all others, depends on the quality of the records you have stored in your Zotero database.

But if you make get information into the database correctly, this style will do a wonderful job. Your citations and bibliographies will very closely match the requirements of the SBL Handbook of Style.

Why You Need an Updated Citation Style

There’s one particular area, though, where Zotero’s default SBL style doesn’t get things quite right.

That is, for a number of specific resources, the SBL Handbook of Style specifies completely custom citations.

These formats work well enough for us in biblical studies who know what they represent (e.g., BDAG, HALOT).

But there’s not a good way for Zotero’s default SBL style to handle these custom citation requirements programmatically. After all, Zotero is software—not a biblical scholar. 😉

For this reason, you’ll want to install an updated version of Zotero’s SBL citation style. If you do this especially before citing theological lexicons and dictionaries, you’ll find it easier to get the correct output.

How to Get an Updated Citation Style

You can read more about how to update Zotero’s base SBL style for yourself. Or just drop your name and email in the form below, and I’ll email you a copy of the updated style.

2. Input Information into Your Zotero Database Properly

Encyclopedias and Bible Dictionaries (§6.3.6)

What SBL Style Requires

When you cite Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries, SBL style wants an initial footnote to look like

1. Krister Stendahl, “Biblical Theology, Contemporary,” IDB 1:418.

Subsequent references should use only the author’s surname, a shortened article title, and drop the dictionary title abbreviation. Thus, you’ll have a citation like

3. Stendahl, “Biblical Theology,” 1:419.

Then in the bibliography, you should have an entry for each individual encyclopedia or dictionary article like

Stendahl, Krister. “Biblical Theology, Contemporary.” IDB 1:418–32.

How to Get What SBL Style Requires

To get this output from Zotero, use the “Dictionary Entry” resource type for each entry you want to cite. You can then fill out the resource metadata as usual.

The one exception is that, in the “Dictionary Title” field, you often won’t put the full dictionary title.

Instead, if one exists, you’ll want to use the standard abbreviation for that dictionary’s title.

Some of these abbreviations are available in the SBL Handbook of Style. For others, you may need to consult the third edition of Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete (IATG).

(For more about using IATG alongside the SBL Handbook of Style, see my e-book on SBL style.)

Lexicons and Theological Dictionaries (§6.3.7)

For lexicons and theological dictionaries, things are a bit trickier. And it’s here that you’ll be thankful you’ve installed an update to Zotero’s default SBL citation style.

First, however, note that the SBL Handbook of Style heads §6.3.7 as discussing citation of “An Article in a Lexicon or a Theological Dictionary.”

But apparently, the section is intended to address only signed articles in lexicons and theological dictionaries. For unsigned articles, you’ll follow a different citation method.2

Some works include only unsigned entries (e.g., BDAG, HALOT). Others include both signed and unsigned entries (e.g., EDNT). So, you’ll want to carefully use the citation method appropriate for the specific entry type that you’re citing.

What SBL Style Requires

With that distinction made, note that, for theological lexicons and dictionaries, the SBL Handbook of Style wants initial footnotes like

1. Hermann W. Beyer, “διακονέω, διακονία, κτλ,” TDNT 2:93.

Or if you’re citing only the article on one particular word in a larger group, you’ll have something like

1. Hermann W. Beyer, “διακονέω,” TDNT 2:81.

According to the Handbook, subsequent citations need to have the author’s surname and the lexicon or dictionary title but drop the article title. (This requirement is opposite of that for Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries.)

But SBL Press has now reversed this pattern so that signed lexicon or theological dictionary titles are cited in the same way as are encyclopedia and Bible dictionary articles.3

Thus, you’ll have a subsequent reference like

3. Beyer, “διακονέω,” 2:83.

Then, in the bibliography, you’ll give the individual article entry like

Beyer, Hermann W. “διακονέω, διακονία, κτλ.” TDNT 2:81–93.4

This method of reflecting lexicons and theological dictionaries in the bibliography again represents SBL Press adjusting the presentation of these types of sources to be more similar to encyclopedias and Bible dictionaries.5

Per the Handbook itself, you would only include only one entry in the bibliography for a whole theological lexicon or dictionary, no matter how many articles you cited from it.

By contrast, the full bibliography entry for the whole work (e.g., TDNT) should now only go in an abbreviation list, if you need to have one.6

How to Get What SBL Style Requires

There are a few different options for how to ask Zotero to produce this output. Different methods might work better in different situations, depending on whether the source has only unsigned entries, only signed entries, or some of both.

Only Unsigned Entries

If your source has only unsigned entries, you’ll probably be best off by having just the one Zotero record for the whole source.

Only Signed Entries or Both Signed and Unsigned Entries

If your source has only signed entries, you’ll probably be best off by having

  • One Zotero record for each entry you cite and
  • One Zotero record for the whole work, if you need this for the abbreviation list or for unsigned entries.

Setting up the Zotero records for signed entries is pretty straightforward. But setting up a record to cite unsigned entries requires some special steps.

Setting Up Zotero Records for Unsigned Entries

For unsigned entries, you won’t always need to cite the work with an abbreviation. But that will often be the case.

When it is, you can use the “Extra” field for that Zotero record to enter Annote: followed by how you want to cite the lexicon or dictionary overall.

For example, for the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, the corresponding abbreviation is EDNT. So in Zotero’s “Extra” field for that resource, can enter Annote: <i>EDNT</i>.

Zotero won’t do anything with what follows Annote: except use it exactly to cite your resource. So you have to include the <i> and </i> tags to tell Zotero you want the title abbreviation italicized, as SBL style requires.

When you initially cite an unsigned article, you can then choose the “sub verbo” locator type in the Zotero add citation dialog box so that you can enter the entry you’re citing from.

Using the Annote: variable to store the custom citation you need should then allow you to configure your footnotes one way while not affecting the formatting of the bibliography entry for that resource, should you need to include one there or in an abbreviation list.

Conclusion

As Zotero and SBL style continue evolving, the process for getting certain types of output will change as well.

But of all the bibliography managers available, Zotero continues to provide one of the easiest out-of-the-box experiences for managing and citing research in biblical studies.


  1. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §§6.3.6–6.3.7. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word),” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 4 April 2017. 

  3. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  4. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  5. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  6. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).”