Bible Becomes Best-Seller in 'Secular' Norway; Many Surprised

The Bible has become the best-selling book in Norway, which some say is one of the most secular countries in Europe.  Moreover, a successful six-hour play inspired by the Bible isfurther evidence that the country has not lost its interest in religion and faith.

"Church attendance is a poor measure of the Norwegian state of faith," said post-doctoral fellow Thorgeir Kolshus at the University of Oslo, according to The Associated Press. "Religion is a very private thing for Norwegians."

The Holy Book sold close to 160,000 copies in 2012, which some officials said is thanks to a good marketing campaign that appealed both to teenagers and adults.

"It's easier to read," said Helga Haugland Byfuglien, presiding bishop for the Church of Norway. "There is no over-interpretation of the text."

Although the CIA World Factbook lists 85.7 percent of Norway's population as belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, parliament voted last year to end the church's status as the official state religion. Statistics suggest that only 1 percent of the population regularly attends church, and only 43 percent of respondents to a 2010 survey affirmed that they believe in God.

Still, to the surprise of some, the Bible earned its place as the best-selling book in the Scandinavian country, even beating out popular titles such as Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Norwegian language version of the Bible apparently became so popular that it spun off as a six-hour fictional stage production called "Bibelen," which drew 16,000 spectators during its three-month run.

"Thoughts and images from the Bible still have an impact on how we experience reality," said Karl Ove Knausgaard, a Norwegian author who helped with the translation of the Bible.

Dag Smemo, project manager for publisher the Norwegian Bible Society, previously explained that working on a new translation of the Bible was always a touchy issue.

"People say they like it the way it is. But we had a very thorough procedure, involving authors and poets, secular people and believers, and discussing the whole translation word by word, so there is not only a good translation of the Greek and Hebrew but also a very good flow of the Norwegian language," Smemo said.

"People are saying that it's very good, and we are seeing this from both conservative groups and more secular groups. It's definitely not only Christians buying it. It's atheists too – people are saying the Bible is important for us, for our culture, and for the nation."

Another possible reason for the popularity of the Bible is the increased immigration rates, suggested Anne Veiteberg, publishing director of Norway's Bible Society. AP noted that more than 258,000 immigrants have relocated to Norway in the past six years, many of them Christians.

"Now that we're exposed to other faiths, Norwegians have gotten more interested in their own faith," Veiteberg offered.