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 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 articles in theological lexicons and theological dictionaries.

If you’re citing a Greek lexicon like BDAG, a Hebrew lexicon like DCH, or something similar, §6.3.7 doesn’t apply. Instead, you’ll follow a different citation method for those kinds of lexicons.

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.

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.) Thus, you’ll have a subsequent reference like

3. Beyer, TDNT 2:83.

Then, in the bibliography, you won’t include the individual articles. (This is also opposite the requirement for Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries.) You include only one entry for the whole theological lexicon or dictionary. So you’ll have something like

Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–1976.

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, particularly depending on whether your document needs a bibliography.

If it does, the best method I’ve found is to cite from only one Zotero record. This record will be for the theological lexicon or dictionary as a whole.

You’ll then use the “Extra” field for that resource to enter Annote: followed by how you want to cite the lexicon or dictionary overall.

Often, this will be by an abbreviation. For example, for the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the corresponding abbreviation is TDNT. So in Zotero’s “Extra” field for that resource, you’ll enter Annote: <i>TDNT</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 article, put the full author name and article title in the citation dialog’s “Prefix” field. If you cite the same article again in the same document, you’ll use the “Prefix” field to include only the article author’s surname.

In both cases, you’ll also include in the “Prefix” field the comma that will appear before the dictionary abbreviation. Annote: completely bypasses any of the other citation management that Zotero normally does for a note.

If you use this method throughout your document, you’re only ever citing one resource from Zotero’s viewpoint. Then Zotero can easily generate your bibliography and include only this one theological lexicon or dictionary as a whole.

Conclusion

As Zotero continues evolving, the process for getting certain types of output will probably 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.

What Bible encyclopedias, Bible dictionaries, theological dictionaries, or theological lexicons do you frequently use?


  1. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §§6.3.6–6.3.7. 

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