Sermon on the Mount, ???

SBL Style and its use for citations on this site

Why this page 

When faced with the challenge of encoding SBL Style for a modest bibliographic package, the  Handbook’s rules are a bit too reminiscent of Leviticus for that purpose; loads of examples but little that spells out the logic behind them. This page is therefore an attempt to reverse engineer the principles from the examples. It is offered here for the benefit of others who are struggling with SBL.

If you learn best by looking at examples, there are plenty in this Sermon on the Mount bibliography.

The flysheet notes of The SBL Handbook of Style claim that it is “a true ‘one-stop’ reference for authors preparing manuscripts in biblical studies and related fields.” Nevertheless, on page three it readily admits “Questions of Style that are not covered by The SBL Handbook or the book style sheet may be resolved by other authorities”  (Alexander et al. 1999, 3). Moreover, if trying to use the Author Date Citations the handbook gives selected examples but states “For additional information consult CMS 16.3-209” (Alexander et al. 1999, 64). CMS = Chicago Manual of Style, details of which are obtainable from
The following notes are not exhaustive, nor a substitute for the use of that book. However, they provide an alternate (and hopefully correct) view of some of its intricacies, that may help the novice get to grips with it.

The SBL Handbook of Style

The text of the SBL Handbook of Style (Patrick H. Alexander, John F. Kutsko, James D. Ernest, Shirley A Decker-Lucke and David L. Petersen eds. SBL Handbook of Style: For Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies. Peabodys, Mass.:Hendrickson, 1999.), together with a student supplement, was, at the time of writing (1 Nov 2009), available online as a searchable pdf, via

This guide was produced by the Society for Biblical Literature in an attempt to regularise the stylistic approach of written work in biblical and related fields. Even though the handbook is a lengthy book it does not stand alone, for it is fond of delegating its authority from time to time. Hence, to conform perfectly to SBL style you will need other books, such as Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and the Anchor Bible Dictionary for checking spellings (see the handbook for references to these).

Two approaches to layout

References can be placed according to one of two stylistic schemes.
The former is the generally preferred  approach in other branches of academia. The two are not normally mixed (however, when maintaining a web site manually there can be advantages to doing so). 


SBL Style has its limitations for general use, primarily because, at present (Nov 2008), some of its features are poorly supported by current generations of word processors and electronic citation managers. In particular:

Electronic support

The author and date style is supported to some extent by Biblioscape reference manager (the one I use), which unfortunatly does not yet support unicode (so can’t hack the mix of English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek required by biblical scholars).
The preferred footnote and bibliography style appears poorly supported in most reference managers I have looked at. SBL offer a Java based tool for download that is available for beta test (in 2009). It seems usable for a student project, but it has significant limitations for scholastic work (as at 2009 version I saw), notably:

SBL approach to footnote and bibliography style citations

Overall structure of each entry

Each publication reference consists of up to seven parts

  1. Authors/Editors (e.g. John Smith)
  2. Title (e.g. World Handbook of Smiths)
  3. Volume or Series identifier
  4. Publication information (e.g. London: Mypublisher, 2000)
  5. Position of item referenced (e.g. page 10)
  6. A reprint and translation history
  7. Online citation data

Full, concise and abbreviated

The format varies according to which scheme is being used and where the reference is used. The aim seems to be to produce a punctiliously punctuated hierarchy of references that are progressively abbreviated from bibliography to first footnote to subsequent footnote. The components are therefore usually laid out as follows:

Certain commonly used words are always abbreviated, such as:
Certain frequently used terms that are spelled out in full in the bibliographic entry but abbreviated in the first footnote and dropped in subsequent footnotes. These include:

 Pointing to the relevant section

A footnote reference should point to the relevant page, range of pages, chapter and verse, or range of lines in a publication. For example -
This information is omitted:

Adding a history of publication

The history of reprints and translation, where required, is treated as a separate but related series of publications. They are therefore appended to the the bibliography entry as additional sentences in the same paragraph and to the first footnote as subsequent sentences, linked to the first by  semi-colons.
For example
John Smith, World Handbook of Smiths (London: Mypublisher, 2000), 10; repr. World Handbook of Smiths (Edinburgh: Scotsbooks, 1989);  repr. Smith World (New York: XYZ Books, 1973).

The authors / editors

General rules

  1. Supply the Author’s first name wherever possible. [This can often be identified by a web search for the title and surname]
  2. Use comma delimited lists (e.g. x,y, and z) in the order forenames then surname, but tailor them to context as follows:
Where the book is attributed to an editor or editors add ‘, ed.’ or ', eds.' after the relevant name/s.  

Citing one author's work within that of another author

Were it is necessary to cite the work of one author within the work of another then a full citation uses the format Article Author. Article in Title by Main Author. For example
Articles or chapters in the following include details of both article author and overall editor in both first footnotes and bibliographies
  • A collection
  • A festschrift
  • An anthology
  • A multi-volume work
Where the overall editors of any composite work are anonymous, or it is normal practice for them to remain so, then the article is cited as if it was a full work in its own right. This is the case for articles in
As Journal editors are traditionally not cited, omit editor details even in the bibliography.
Where there are likely to be references to numerous articles in the same collection (e.g. Lexicons and theological dictionaries), citing each individually is likely to lead to excessive repetition in the bibliography. Therefore the bibliography includes a full reference for the collection, rather than individual references to each article. 

A similar situation arises with citing well known ancient works and primary sources. The footnotes need only the fully abbreviated details, full details of the translation are then added once to the bibliography. Examples include:

The Title


The title consists of three parts, not all of which are relevant for every publication. These comprise
  1. Article or chapter title (e.g. Recent Fluctuations in Brazilian Rainfall)
  2. Publication title (e.g. Journal of Advanced Rain Forest Studies)
  3. Part details (covering volume, series, part or issue and page range)

Article or chapter title

Surround the title with double quotation marks. Separate the main title and any sub-titles with a colon, unless it is already adequately punctuated. Separate additional sub titles with colons, unless they are already adequately punctuated. Include punctuation inside the quotation. For example, 
“The Lessons of Our Failure: Did It Have to Happen? A Personal Reflection.”

The title is abbreviated progressively from biblography, to first footnote to subsequent footnote. Use recognised abbreviations where these exist (see The SBL Handbook)
For a publication review with a title, add a parenthetical note following the review title and giving the author and title details for the subject of the review.

Capitalization depends upon the language of the title.
Abbreviations should be in full capitals. e.g. B.C.E. and C.E.

When referring to an article or chapter where there is no title to quote then a textual description  is used instead. For example for a review which deals with John Smith’s latest book, without a title being given, use ‘review of John Smith’.

When referring to a chapter with a conventional titled use
Internet pages with no print equivalent are treated as articles with no publication details.

Publication title

As for an article title but italicise the publication title rather than enclosing it in quotes (words already in italics become regular text) . For example, 'Going for Italics' becomes 'Going for Italics'

Part details

The full version of the part details is placed between the article or chapter title and the publication name. The abbreviated version follows the publication name.
For example,
Where the publication date of the part is pertinent, as with a journal or a magazine, there is no full version style specified and so the abbreviated version is used on both bibliography and first footnote. It is included parenthetically following the part number
For example
The part details are omitted from subsequent footnotes. For example
Part details are set as 1,2,3 rather than I,II,III
Where a second or subsequent series has started use series/issue format. For example

Publication information

Publication information generally consists of the following elements, placed in the order shown
Item   Example Format in bibliography Example Format in first footnote 
Editor   Edited by John Smith. ed. John Smith;
Translator  Translated by John Smith. trans. John Smith;  
Number of Volumes      4 vols. 4 vols.
Edition 3d ed. 3d ed.; 
Series Title  Vol. 1 in Work Title. Editor.
Series Title 1.
Vol. 1 in Work Title, Editor;
Series Title 1; 
City London: London:
Publisher Mypublisher,  Mypublisher,
Date 2000  2000
For an unpublished thesis, the single copy is in effect published by the academic institution that holds the original. Therefore combine ‘PhD diss.,’ with the name of the institution and treat that as a publisher name.

For a recently re-printed volume the original publication should be considered part of the publication details. The two sets of details follow one another, separated by '; repr.,'

Reprint and translation history

This is used when citing the full history of a re-printed or translated work. It is achieve by adding as many additional sets of title and publication details as required, separated by semi-colons or full stops as per the type of entry. Each group begins as follows
In particular, this provides one option for the citation of a republished journal article.

Page number

For publications with pages the footnote shows the full page range in the form
For articles in an encyclopedia, dictionary, lexicon cite the full page range in the footnote but not in the bibliography.

For articles in a journal cite the specific pages in the footnote but the full page range of the article in the bibliography.

For other sources omit page numbers from the bibliography.

For Internet pages or electronic copies with no pages. The lack of pages is treated as part of the article title.

Online citation data

For Internet pages the date the page was accessed is shown. The format, which depends on whether there is a print counterpart, is
The URL of the document is then cited, prefixed by ‘Online:’ and terminated by a full stop. E.g. Online:

Abbreviating multiple references in footnotes

On second or subsequent references to the same publication, abbreviate the details as follows
  1. Omit the author’s forenames (provided the title/name combination remains unique)
  2. Omit any subtitles (provided the title/name combination remains unique)
  3. Abbreviate the main title (provided the title/name combination remains unique)
  4. Omit the publication data (except where editors are needed to maintain uniqueness)


Patrick H. Alexander, John F. Kutsko, James D. Ernest, Shirley A Decker-Lucke and David L. Petersen eds. SBL Handbook of Style: For Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies. Peabodys, Mass.:Hendrickson, 1999.
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