Using the SBL Handbook of Style
Have you ever read a scholarly article and wondered how the author knew how to transliterate a verse from the Hebrew Bible, or how to cite a quotation from Josephus? Citing the sources you’ve used for your research can be a big challenge! One great resource that can really help when citing sources for biblical studies research is the SBL Handbook of Style for Biblical Studies and Related Disciplines (2nd ed., ed. Billie Jean Collins, Atlanta: SBL Press, 2014). The library has this resource in electronic format, so you can access it whenever you need it with your bar code and PIN number. The SBL Handbook is published by the Society of Biblical Literature and thus all its information is specifically tailored to the stylistic norms of the field of biblical studies.
The section you will probably find yourself referencing again and again is chapter 6, “Notes and Bibliographies.” This chapter contains instructions for and examples of how to cite a wide variety of resources in proper SBL style: books with single or multiple authors, journal articles, books in series (like biblical commentaries!), unpublished dissertations, online databases, and websites or blogs are just some of the most common kinds of works you might need to cite. But this chapter also gives information on how to properly cite ancient sources, patristic writings, unpublished papers presented at academic conferences, and volumes from the Loeb Classical Library, as well as other kinds of highly discipline-specific resources that are not likely to be addressed in general-use style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style. The chapter provides examples of how properly to cite these sources in a footnote as well as in a bibliography.
Additionally, the SBL Handbook offers a chapter on proper abbreviations for ancient texts, books of the Bible, Pseudepigraphic texts, the Dead Sea scrolls, modern versions of the Bible, modern journals, and many other resources. Another chapter addresses standards for transliterating Hebrew, Greek, and other ancient languages — something you will likely need to do for any upper-level biblical studies course. The chapter even explains how to transcribe ancient texts so that your reader understands where damage to a manuscript has left part of the text illegible or uncertain.
The Handbook also contains general style information that every writer in the field of biblical studies needs to keep ready to hand. There is some information on how to use commas and other punctuation marks properly, how to form possessives correctly, and when to spell out numbers. There is also discipline-specific information such as how to use punctuation to separate citations of ancient and biblical texts, when to italicize foreign words and phrases versus when to leave unitalicized words that have come into English from other languages. The Handbook also includes an important section on how to ensure that the language you use is as bias-free as possible.
If you are planning to submit your work to a journal for publication, the SBL Handbook contains a chapter detailing the responsibilities of an author. These are things you need to do before you submit your article. If the work you submit to a journal is already properly stylistically formatted, you have headed off one potential round of “revise and resubmit,” and you will also have ensured that the editors of the journal to which you’re submitting your work are not distracted from the important content of your argument by style errors.
The SBL Handbook of Style is a trove of good information for seminarians and professional writers in biblical studies alike. Before you go ask your professor how to format all the citations for your research paper this semester, take a moment to consult at the SBL Handbook — it will probably have the information you need, and your professor will thank you!