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A people's Bible

In Norway, a popular new Bible has had an impact

If the Bible is a best-seller ... well, it always has been. A recent Norwegian Bible translation — which comes in pink leather or adorned with skulls — is no exception. It was Norway’s best-selling book in 2011 and 2012. (The Bible wasn’t among the top 100 best-selling books in the U.S. last year.)

Yet Bible 2011, or Bibel 2011 as it’s called in Norway, hasn’t filled pews. Rather, (Lutheran) Church of Norway and Statistics Norway numbers suggest that what’s grown in this country of 5 million souls is people’s relationships to the Bible. As for congregation sizes, 746 parishes have seen numbers fall and 500 have seen them rise.

For Norwegians, Bible 2011 has unleashed a surge of interest, not just in the word but in the line-for-line words. Conceived to attract “digitized” youth and new scholarship and to be read like literature, the tome can be seen as a triumph of creativity. 

Norwegian Bible Society editor Hans-Olav Moerk managed the more than 10 year process. “We employed 12 of Norway’s best poets and fiction writers as literary consultants,” he said. “It was teamwork between New and Old Testament scholars, source language experts and authors as stylistic consultants.”

“Original Bible texts did not have verse numbers, footnotes or cross references. They were written as literary documents,” Moerk asserted. 

By all accounts, Bible 2011 is less patriarchal, highly readable and adheres to original sources, including words found in the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran, Israel. 

Scholarly acclaim for the translation is good news, but what of the congregations? “Because it was experienced as a good Bible text, it immediately gained wide acceptance in [parishes] and is now in general use,” Moerk said, adding that translators used literary techniques to make their work “interfere with ... mingle with” people’s lives.

Church of Norway communications adviser Siv Thompson said the Bible, released in October 2011, uses a language that appeals to many people.

The launch coincided with an Oslo-area theater’s rendition of the Scriptures. “It all worked together,” Thompson said. “People were reading the Bible and going to the theater to see [the six-hour performance titled Bibelen].”

 The theater production, which wrapped up in March 2013, featured nontraditional interpretations of Scripture. For example, instead of dying on a cross, Jesus is shown being committed to a mental hospital and eventually executed via lethal injection. 

Moerk used public relations tools (advertisements, newspaper reviews and media events) to sell the new Bible. Poets and authors wrote in daily newspapers about their experiences as “stylists.” 

Moerk said he wanted the J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) effect, with “children lining up for their copy.” He got it. 

The marketing effort was headed up by a Bible Society pastor and three lay marketing experts who, Moerk said, told theology students and media contacts that bookstores were serving lunch and opening early for the launch.


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