How to Use Zotero to Properly Cite Grammars in SBL Style

You might think that citing a grammar according to the SBL Handbook of Style would be pretty straightforward.1 And you’d be right, but there are several special cases to account for.

1. Cite section numbers wherever possible.

Instead of citing a grammar by page number, you should cite by section number wherever possible to give the most precise reference. You’ll designate a single section with “§” and a section range with “§§”.

2. Cite grammars by abbreviation where applicable.

For many common Hebrew and Greek grammars, the SBL Handbook specifies an abbreviation by which to cite a given grammar (§8.4). You may find others also when you check IATG3.

For instance, Gesenius-Kautzch-Cowley is cited simply by the abbreviation “GKC”. Blass-Debrunner-Funk is cited simply as “BDF”.2

The full bibliographic information for these sources then goes in an abbreviations list and should not appear in the bibliography.

3. Adjust your reference manager’s output accordingly.

If you use reference manager software, you’ll want to consider how best to get that software to produce the abbreviated references you need for cases like this. If you use Zotero, you have two main options.

a. Enter footnotes manually, or use the prefix and suffix fields.

If you need to cite only one or more grammars only by an abbreviation(s), you can simply add a footnote and type the appropriate text without going through Zotero’s “add citation” process.

If you are citing a grammar(s) and another source(s) in a Zotero footnote, you can simply add the appropriate grammar citation text to the prefix or suffix fields of your existing citation, depending on whether you want the grammar citation to come before or after the other source(s) you are citing.

So, for instance, when adding or editing a citation, you could type “BDF §458;” into the prefix field to add a citation to Blass-Debrunner-Funk §458. Zotero would then build this text into the footnote so that the footnote will look as it should.

The upside of this method is that it is quite straightforward. The downside is that any sources you cite in this way won’t appear in any bibliography Zotero generates for your document.

SBL Press doesn’t want sources cited by abbreviation in a bibliography anyhow, but in some cases, you might find that you want this (e.g., requirements from a professor, journal, or volume editor).

In that event, your best option will be to edit the bibliography that Zotero prepares to add any sources you’ve included in your footnotes simply by adding their abbreviations as text. Since you entered those citations simply as text, Zotero won’t “know” to add these sources to your bibliography unless you make those changes directly.

b. Install the current SBL style in your reference manager.

Other ways of getting this output automatically from Zotero may be on the horizon. But things are really quite easy if you have the current version of the SBL style installed.

Not long ago, you would have needed to install a custom variant of the main SBL style or edit the style yourself. That’s no longer necessary, however. The changes necessary to cite grammars and other sources by abbreviation are now part of the main SBL style.

You can get the style from the Zotero repository directly. Or if you drop your name and email in the form below, I’ll drop you an email about that style. I’ll also include the style for the Catholic Biblical Association, which uses many of the same abbreviations as SBL style.

Once you have the style installed, for any source you need to cite by an abbrevation, just add Annote: [abbreviation] in that Zotero resource’s “Extra” field. So, for instance, for Blass-Debrunner-Funk, you would add Annote: BDF.

The upside of this method is that you can cite grammars by abbreviation while using the Zotero add citation dialog.

The downside is that you might need to edit your bibliography, if you have one, to remove these sources and move them to an abbreviation list (per SBL style’s requirement).

But you will probably know pretty well which few sources are cited by abbreviations. So, you should be able to edit your bibliography as needed pretty quickly to relocate these sources.


In the end, citing grammars according to the SBL Handbook of Style is quite straightforward.

If you want to cite them while using a reference manager, the process may be a bit more detailed to set up since the manager may not have a mechanism for handling largely custom citation patterns like the abbreviations SBL Press specifies for common grammars.

But with some careful thought about how you want to approach citing these kinds of resources, you can certainly streamline them into your existing citation process.

  1. Header image provided by SBL Press

  2. Also important is SBL Press’s discussion of citing Herbert Smyth’s Greek Grammar

Daily Gleanings: Lingusitics (5 November 2019)

Kris Lyle has a substantive but accessible discussion of the (non‑)use of linguistics in recent biblical studies. In particular, Lyle takes aim at the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew.

Lyle makes the point that

for biblical language lexica [advances in modern linguistics] mean[] we’re able to do a lot more than record collocational patterns and provide target language glosses.

But despite the aims of the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew to take special account of modern linguistic advances,

in the end, we are left with much of the same when we consult the pages of the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew: English glosses and a comprehensive treatment of collocational arrangements.

Lyle thinks “it would indeed be a very inconvenient way of studying a Hebrew text to look up the meanings of all the words in this large and exhaustive work.”

If one uses the Logos edition when working through a Hebrew text, this inconvenience vastly dissipates.

But Lyle’s summary of the Dictionary‘s contents as mainly involving “English glosses and a comprehensive treatment of collocational arrangements” seems pretty fair.

And even though this emphasis doesn’t put the Dictionary at the forefront of linguistically-informed lexicography, it certainly does provide a huge reservoir of other kinds of valuable information about classical Hebrew.

For Lyle’s full discussion, see his essay now newly reposted at Koine Greek.

Daily Gleanings: Assyrian (3 October 2019)

The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute has made their 21-volume Assyrian Dictionary openly available online. Per the Institute,

The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary was conceived to provide more than lexical information alone, more than a one-to-one equivalent between Akkadian and English words. By presenting each word in a meaningful context, usually with a full and idiomatic translation, it recreates the cultural milieu and thus in many ways assumes the function of an encyclopedia. Its source material ranges in time from the third millennium B.C. to the first century A.D., and in geographic area from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Zagros Mountains in the east.

Completed in 2010, the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary has become an invaluable source for the study of the civilizations of the ancient Near East, their political and cultural history, their achievements in the sciences of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, linguistics, and the timeless beauty of their poetry.

HT: Randall Bailey

Gesenius-Kautzsch’s 28th edition

The second English edition of Wilhelm Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar (ed., E. Kautzsch, trans. A. Cowley) is based on the 28th edition of the German text. I recently came across a curiosity in the English text that made me want to have a look at the German behind it. Thankfully, Internet Archive has several versions of Gesenius-Kautzsch, and at least one of these is of the grammar’s 28th edition.

Creating series in Logos

Logos Bible Software logoUnder the heading of “keeping your Greek and Hebrew skills sharp,” Mark Ward has some helpful advice about creating a serial biblical text in Logos Bible Software. For instance, if you create a series between BHS and NA28 and you have BHS open, you can type a New Testament passage in the go box and run straight there. Logos will treat the two resources as combined.

I’d had this done at one point, but then a subsequent software update disrupted that connection, and I’d been looking for a good way to reestablish the connection. Using Mark’s principles, I’ve now got serial relationships established among BHS, LXX (based on the current German Bible Society version of Rahlfs), and NA28 texts. The combination allows movement from any one of the texts to any other. For texts occurring in more than one of the resources (BHS, LXX), it looks like Logos may follow the priority system established via the library.

For the moment, the serial relationships don’t seem to get passed from the desktop version to iOS. But, one can hope that’s on the road-map for a future iOS app update.