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Literary Bible Translation Tops Norway’s Bestseller List

December 30, 2011

A new translation of the Bible has taken the top spot in Norway’s bestseller list, selling 75,000 copies between October publication and Christmas, according to the publisher’s figures.

The Norwegian Bible Society used a team of 30 famous literary authors as consultants on the translation, including internationally known playwright Jon Fosse, and published a literary edition without chapters and verses.

Read the rest from Benedicte Page here.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2011 1:35 pm

    Publicist Stine Smemo Strachan, who worked on the project, said: “The media coverage was huge, it was on the news, in all the papers two or three times, and people were discussing it over lunch – it became a cultural event. The only week it was knocked off the number one spot was when [controversial Norwegian bestseller] Karl Ove Knausgård published a new book, and they always go to number one.”

    She added: “Some may speculate it has something to do with the [Utoya] tragedy this summer, but I think the main success is down to media coverage and that famous literary authors were consultants on the translation and they focused on it being readable.”

    Many things to say here.

    First, there aren’t that many translations into Norwegian (with Swedish being the dominant Scandinavian language); so a new translation would be big news.

    Second, according to the (almost impossible to read Wikipedia page, this version is a more formal (concordant) translations than the previous leading translation.)

    Third, the sales figure of 75,000 really indicates how small Norway is — there are four major dialects of Norwegian: Nynorsk, Høgnorsk, Bokmål, Riksmål and several significant minority languages (Sami language family, Finnish-Kven, etc.) As a comparison, Crossway claims that just one edition of their Bible, the ESV Study Bible sold 180,000 units in the first five months of its release; and I understand that the ESV translation sells several million units each year — and it is currently number four on the CBA bestseller list — sales of the NIV, KJV, and NKJV far surpass this number.

  2. December 30, 2011 4:47 pm

    Kurk — I am sorry — I accidentally wrote over your comment. I will try to recover it in the comment.

  3. December 30, 2011 4:51 pm

    MEA CULPA!!!!! I overwrote Kurk’s comment. Here is what I think he wrote, before I accidentally overwrote it:


    Thanks for the analysis, Theophrastus.

    1. The last complete translation of the Christian Bible in Norway (i.e., Hebrew Bible and New Testament) was in 1978. This current one, “Bibel 2011,” combines the new New Testament completed in 2005 with the new Old Testament finished in October of this year; six years ago, the Norwegian Bible Society started selling a volume with the old 1978 Old Testament plus the then-new 2005 New Testament.

    2. The Norwegian wikipedia page seeems more readable than does the English wikipedia entry. It also links to a couple of useful reviews.

    In the review by poet Gunnar Wærness, there’s a comparison of Bibel 2011 with Robert Alter’s English translation of the Five Books of Moses:

    Et uttømmende noteapparat, som gjør Robert Alters oversettelse av Mosebøkene The five books of Moses til en så meningsomstyrtende lesning, ville stå i fare for å gjøre hovedteksten til gjest i eget hus, og kommer til å tynge en standardutgave unødig.

    In the review by literary critic Alf Kjetil Walgermo, there’s a look a how the translators of Bibel 2011 have rendered gender:

    Utfordringane i Første Mosebok er elles dei same som på bokmål: Korleis skal ein omsette «adam» i skapingssoga? Ordet betyr som kjend menneske, mens ««isj» tyder mann og «isja» er kvinne. 2011-omsettinga har: «Ho skal kallast kvinne, for av mannen er ho teken.» Det er nøkternt og godt, og kjønnspolitisk betre enn det fyrebilsbibelen fleska til med: «Ho skal kallast kjerring, for ho er teki av ein kar.»

    Of course, both reviews are much more substantial than the bit quotations I’ve given here can show. And I do not read Norwegian, so I cannot really say what either reviewer on the whole thinks about the new translation. It does appear that Alf Kjetil Walgermo is making some comparisons between the 1971 translation and this new literary translation of 2011.

    3. Do you have any sense as to whether Bibel 2011 would appeal more to readers who use Nynorsk, Høgnorsk, Bokmål, or Riksmål? Does that really matter? Is there anything parallel in the North American English language context? Well, there’s Canadian, Chicagoan, Ebonics, Texan, and I’m kidding. The numbers of English readers and the numbers of English varieties and the numbers of English Bible translations make for difficult comparisons with the Norwegian context. But how significant is it that poets were the consultants on this 2011 project and that it’s being newly touted as literary or reviewed as poetry (as per Gunnar Wærness’s review).

    It’s interesting to see that the Norwegian Bible Society not only solicited the Church’s help in promoting the new translation but that they also asked farmers to enter a contest to use bales of hay wrapped in plastic to advertise Bibel 2011 for a discount on purchases; see here:

  4. December 30, 2011 4:52 pm

    And here is my response to Kurk (that accidentally overwrote his comment):


    Do you have any sense as to whether Bibel 2011 would appeal more to readers who use Nynorsk, Høgnorsk, Bokmål, or Riksmål? Does that really matter? Is there anything parallel in the North American English language context? Well, there’s Canadian, Chicagoan, Ebonics, Texan, and I’m kidding.

    Actually, it is rather surprising how standardized American English is. Virtually all written English literature in the US is in a common dialect. There is some difference in pronunciation, but certainly far less than in the Britain. The approach of American English towards dialects is to swallow them whole (that is why we have so much Yiddish and Spanglish and even “Ebonics” in standard American English.)

    In comparison with, say, the French dialects of France or the Spanish dialects of Spain or the German dialects of Germany, American English is downright homogenous. (Certainly, any educated speaker of American English can expect to read any English newspaper published in the US with no difficulty whatsoever.)

    My understanding is that same is not true in Norway. Unlike Joyce, who learned Norwegian just so he could read Ibsen in the original, I cannot claim to know any Scandinavian language, so I cannot make any sense of the references you cite. I do know that Norway has long has a complex relationship with Swedish literature, which I understand to be the dominant Scandinavian language, and I understand that much of Norwegian language politics has this issue at the back of it.

    But in the end, Norway is sparsely populated with only 5.5 million people (and that includes the Finnish section of Norway — Finnish being an Ural-Altaic language [although there is controversy over whether that language group even exists.]) That’s roughly comparable to the population of the metro Dallas-Fort Worth area (where they sell a disproportionate number of Bibles, I know.) Can you imagine writing a history of Dallas-Ft. Worth literature? Or describing the intellectual relationship between Dallas, Houston, and Austin?

  5. December 30, 2011 9:03 pm

    You recovered my comment just fine; so thank you. And even more, Theophrastus, I find your own comments very helpful.

    To try to get the gist of what the two reviewers I linked to were writing, I used online translators. Some of the phrases, however, don’t get translated (and obviously the machine translations don’t handle syntax or idiomatic / metaphoric phrasing either); what is clear is that this Norwegian is Bokmål.

    Better information (for those of us who cannot read any Norwegian and who must find it in English):

    The Norwegian Bible Society has a webpage in English that has this initial paragraph —

    From revision to full translation
    The translation process into the two main Norwegian languages “bokmål” and “nynorsk”, was started in 1999 as a slight revision. The translation team soon found out that a more complete new translation was needed, both because the Norwegian languages are rapidly changing and because of the recent publication of all the Dead Sea scrolls. The New Testament was launched in 2005, and now the full Bible. The launch also included the new Bible text in various electronic formats to be read on mobile, i-Pad and internet. The full cost of the project was covered by the Norwegian Bible Society through savings from sales of the last translation in 1978.

    And blogger / graphic designer Frode Bo Helland also writes a post in English with wonderful photos of the Bibel 2011, mainly to show the various editions (in Bokmål and in Nynorsk, in print and in electronic formats) with artwork covers and literary fonts.

    The post starts this way —

    Norwegian Bible, 2011 Editions
    This worthy but inconsistent effort makes a great case for text families that cater to both literary and editorial needs.

    And the captions for three of the several photographic images are as follows (which I’ve hyperlinked to the images) —

    The Standard edition of the 2011 Norwegian Bible. The cover is a glass painting by Norwegian artist Tor Lindrupsen. Click to enlarge.

    The 2011 Norwegian Bible, Literary edition. The borders on each cover use elements from Egyptian, Hellenistic, and Roman art.

    Whitman’s austerity is balanced by the literary edition’s comfortable margins and cream-colored paper. Here’s one of a dozen alphabetic acrostic poems in the bible, marked with Hebrew letters in the margin.

    And the Spokane, Washington, USA company, Olive Tree Bible Software, has the rights to the electronic editions of the Bibel 2011, it seems. On one webpage announcing the new Norwegian Bible, there’s this bit of near sarcastic and Amero-Centric introduction and overview in English

    The New Norwegian Bible

    I know what most of you are saying: “Finally!”

    Well, if you’re from Norway, this is actually a really big deal. Olive Tree Bible Software is the first to offer the Bibelen 2011 for mobile devices!

    Out of necessity, most translations of God’s Word in Norwegian have been idiomatic to a greater or lesser extent.

    On the other hand, “Bibel 2011″ is based rather upon a concordant translation principle, where the translators aim to reproduce the Biblical texts as close to the original as possible.

    The language used is good and makes biblical text understandable for today’s people. This version comes in two dialects: The Bokmål and the Nynorsk. We also have the Bibelen 1978/85 Bokmål.

    Another thing we, at Olive Tree are excited about is that since the translation is based on the oldest manuscripts it’s very reliable.

    To view all Norwegian Bibles Click HERE.

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