A Norwegian translation of the Bible has dominated the Scandinavian country's list of top 15 best-selling books of the year, beating out competition like Fifty Shades of Grey and Justin Bieber's autobiography.
"The hottest read in Norway this year is packed with polygamy, prostitutes – even corporal punishment. But this isn't Fifty Shades of Grey; instead, Norwegians have been rushing to pick up copies of the Bible," the Guardian reports in a colorful introduction.
Published last October, the Norwegian Bible has been in the top 15 best sellers for 54 out of the last 56 weeks, with over 157,000 copies sold.
"It's always a very touchy issue, doing a new translation of the Bible," said Dag Smemo, project manager for publisher the Norwegian Bible Society. "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."
"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," Smemo added.
While previous translations of the Bible in Norwegian exist, Smemo said that the strength of the new translation is what has drawn readers in, both believers and the non-religious. Biblical scholars worked with Hebrew and Greek experts to translate the original text, which was perfected by A Death in the Family author Karl Ove Knausgaard. The project manager noted that the sales had far exceeded the Bible Society's expectations. Initial projections predicted the sales would be between 25,000-75,000, but 157,000 copies surpassed all hopes.
"The surprising thing is that it's the Bible. We've been compared to Fifty Shades. We've said at the Bible Society that it's good we don't only have erotic bestsellers in the charts, but moral books too," Smemo added, referring to Fifty Shades of Grey, the popular 2011 erotica by E.L. James.
Anne Veiteberg, director of the publishing department at the Norwegian Bible Society, explained: "It has been said that the new translation is closer to modern Norwegian language and therefore easier to read, and at the same time it is closer to the original texts in Greek and Hebrew than older translations when it comes to style and poetry,images and metaphors.
"People seem to value the Bible's literary qualities and cultural importance more than before. It is still perceived as the holy scripture and word of God by many Norwegians, but a greater number of people value the Bible as classic literature and cultural heritage too. Congregations and individual Christians are still the largest group of people who buy the Bible, but they are not the only ones."
The Bible is widely regarded to be the most popular book of all time, with billions of copies sold worldwide. It is difficult to rank which books follow in the list, as there is no centralized database system of copies sold. In its list of "Top 21 Best Selling Books of All Time," How Stuff Works lists Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote as having sold over 500 million copies.
Other books with hundreds of millions of copies sold around the world include A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, a book about the former Chinese Communist leader, has printed close to a billion copies and been delivered virtually to every household in China.