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Biblical Fonts

One of the challenges of working with Biblical Hebrew or Greek for students and scholars is how to use them on your computer for your papers and other research projects. This is especially the case for Hebrew, since it is a right-to-left language. Thankfully, the move to Unicode standards in the computing industry has made incorporating and displaying biblical languages into word processing documents and web pages far more easy and reliable.

Non-Unicode ASCII fonts had limited encoding features where a Hebrew font would use the same encoding as regular Latin characters (e.g., the aleph would be mapped the same as the letter "A"). This meant that for someone else to view your document they would need the same fonts (and if you didn't have the same fonts installed on your computer, then the Hebrew or Greek would be gibberish since the Hebrew or Greek letters would be represented with Latin letters). Working with right-to-left Hebrew with non-Unicode fonts were more problematic since you would have to learn to write Hebrew backwards and worry about line breaks.

In contrast, Unicode fonts have each letter encoded separately. Thus, the most current Unicode editions of, e.g.,  Times New Roman or Ariel include encoding for Hebrew and Greek built right into them. In order to type in Greek or Hebrew all you have to do is install and select the appropriate Greek or Hebrew keyboard in your operating system. While this is fine for the basic Hebrew and Greek characters, those wanting to use Biblical Hebrew and Greek with all of the various vowel points and accents will need to use a specialized Hebrew or Greek Unicode font. Luckily, there are a number of excellent fonts available for free (see below)

While Unicode is certainly the way to go with Hebrew and Greek fonts, there are still a few limitations depending on your operating system and word processing software you use. In regards to operating systems, Windows NT/2000/XP/Vista and Mac OS X fully support Unicode. Full word processor support for Biblical Hebrew Unicode fonts will depend on whether or not your word processor displays right-to-left scripts properly. This is not an issue for those using Windows, since MS Word supports right-to-left scripts. For those using Macs, however, MS Word 2008 does not properly handle inputting right-to-left Hebrew. This is a severe limitation for those using Macs and hopefully Microsoft will fix this problem in its next major release. There are some good alternative word processing options for Mac users: Melell from RedleX supports right-to-left input, as does NeoOffice (Apple's Pages doesn't officially support right-to-left scripts, although it handles them alright). Another alternative is to use MS Word for Windows on your Mac with Parallels or VMware Fusion. Either way, Biblical Hebrew on Macs is not as straightforward as with Windows (which is sadly ironic since the best biblical studies software, Accordance, is available natively on the Mac only! See my Bible Software pages)

(For more information about Unicode standards, see the Unicode Consortium home as well as the thorough Wikipedia article on Unicode).

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Unicode Hebrew Fonts

SBL Hebrew

There are a number of Unicode Hebrew fonts available, though I find these two to be the best (and they are free to use!):

  • SBL Hebrew. This is a free Unicode Hebrew font professionally made by Tiro Typeworks for the Society of Biblical Literature. This is a beautiful Hebrew font that includes all of the diacritics the Biblical Hebrew student or scholar will need.  The SBL fonts are designed for use in Unicode text environments using OpenType Layout, such as Microsoft Windows 2000, XP and Vista, and specific applications under Mac OS and Linux. To download the latest version of SBL Hebrew and for keyboards and installation instructions, please see the SBL Biblical Fonts page.
  • Ezra SIL. This free Hebrew Unicode font was developed by SIL (initially known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics).  To download the latest version of Ezra SIL and for installation instructions, please see the SIL Website.

Unicode Greek Fonts

SBL Greek

As with Hebrew, there are a number of Unicode Greek fonts available, though I find these two to be the best (and they are free to use!):

  • SBL Greek. This is a free Unicode Greek font professionally made by Tiro Typeworks for the Society of Biblical Literature. This is a beautiful Hebrew font that includes all of the diacritics the Biblical Greek student or scholar will need.  The SBL fonts are designed for use in Unicode text environments using OpenType Layout, such as Microsoft Windows 2000, XP and Vista, and specific applications under Mac OS and Linux. To download the latest version of SBL Hebrew and for keyboards and installation instructions, please see the SBL Biblical Fonts page.
  • Galatia SIL. This free Greek Unicode font was developed by SIL.  To download the latest version of Galatia SIL and for installation instructions, please see the SIL Website.

Unicode Transliteration Fonts

One of the other font requirements for biblical students and scholars is an appropriate font to display Hebrew and Greek transliteration (i.e., representing Hebrew or Greek in Latin characters). While many of the core fonts such as Times New Roman or Arial Unicode MS have been extended to include all of the characters necessary to represent Hebrew or Greek transliteration, there are some specialty fonts also available:

  • Gentium. This free Unicode font supports a wide range of Latin-based alphabets and includes glyphs that correspond to all the Latin ranges of Unicode.  To download the latest version of Gentium and for installation instructions, please see the SIL Website.
  • SBL BibLit. This font is currently under development; if it is anything like the other new SBL fonts, this will be a must have for biblical students and scholars.

Legacy Fonts

A popular set of non-Unicode compliant fonts for biblical scholars was produced by James Adair and distributed by the Society of Biblical Literature. These "SP" fonts ("SP" = Scholar's Press)  included a Hebrew and Greek fonts, among others, that had the same key mapping for both MacOS and Windows, making them ideal for distributing and sharing files accross platforms. These are still available for download from the SBL website.

[For a Haitian Creole translation of this page as part of the "Geek Science" project, please go here]

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Last Updated on Friday, 16 March 2012 16:34