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Ever opened an email or attachment from a colleague, and gotten gobbledegook, rather than the text expected? Mishaps occur because the numerical code behind the letters we read on our screens have been designed randomly. One publisher assigns one number set for "A" while another publisher assigns a completely different set. Depending on your computer (or "platform") you can read the file or not.

Those days are soon over, due to an advance in encoding technology known as Unicode. Unicode assigns a single number (or grouping of numbers) to a single character so that "no matter what the platform, no matter what the program, no matter what the language" the file is readable. (See: This uniformity allows files to fly from computer to computer and be intelligible to the reader.

The above is important to SBL members not only because an academic's main tool of the trade is a computer, but because SBL is pioneering the design of three unicode fonts for Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, in conjunction with a professional type foundry, Tiro ( These languages will be readable and elegant, so that in context with a Latin font, the type will look pleasing on the page.

*the sample above from Tiro is still in progress.

SBL has created a "Font Foundation" comprised of publishers who sign a licensing agreement for the fonts at a flat fee. Publishers will distribute the fonts freely to their authors and editors so that text uniformity and accuracy is assured. The foundation will also set and maintain standards for any eventual additions to the biblical studies font library, so that encoding remains standard.

Jack Keller, Vice President of Publishing, Westminster John Knox Press and a font foundation member says of the work: "Platform changes (MAC/PC), OS changes, software version changes, have complicated the ability of publishers to use the files that our authors have taken such pains to prepare. The author often provides a disk on which there are fonts that the publisher does not own or license and therefore cannot use. The result is that a typesetter with little or no foreign language ability tries to duplicate with the publisher's font what the author has submitted. The chaos that follows at proof stage would be humorous were it not for the needless expense incurred by the publisher (passed on in part to readers). What will the SBL font initiative mean for WJK? It will mean fewer errors, fewer hours proofing, and lower cost to our readers for our more technical biblical studies books. The font initiative should also result in seamless dual publication (print and electronic). WJK is proud of its role in supporting SBL's creation of a standard for biblical studies fonts."

The licensing fees from the foundation create reinvestment funds for new fonts or upgrades due to changes in font technology. The fonts will be freely available to SBL members via the SBL website and will hopefully become the stock in trade for all publishing in ancient languages. SBL and the font foundation will lobby Microsoft to distribute the font with its future releases of Windows.

SBL's Director of Research and Development, Patrick Durusau comments, "The font interchange issue and the need for proper display of Hebrew and Greek has been known for a long time. The technology has finally developed to the point that the SBL could address the problem in a systematic way and solve a whole range of problems for members, scholars, and publishers."


Citation: Moira Bucciarelli, " Scholars and Fonts: A Solution," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Dec 2005]. Online:


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