The Bible has become Norway’s bestseller, despite the country seemingly having among the fewest followers of organised religion in Europe.

Norway was nominally Evangelical Lutheran until its parliament ended this officially last year, but few Norwegian people regularly attend church. In fact, it is estimated only one per cent of the 5 million-strong population regularly goes to church.

However, despite this the latest translation by the Norwegian Bible Society of the text, released in October 2011, has now sold more copies than racy erotic fiction Fifty Shades of Grey, by EL James. In 2012, it became Norway’s best-selling book of the year, shifting 160,000 copies.

One reason for its success may be the campaign it was marketed with. Norway’s Bible Society designed a series of different covers to appeal to multiple demographics. The Huffington Post reports that sophisticated designs were drawn up to appeal to adult readers, while teenagers were targeted with denim or pink leather covers. An extensive teaser campaign was also carried out, with Norwegian artists and poets asked to take Bible stories as inspiration to create images and poems.

The translation itself is also thought to have helped boost sales. Care has been taken not to overly interpret the words, which has added to its readability. For instance, Mary is referred to as a “young” woman, unlike older versions of the Bible where she is described as a “virgin”. According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which made the same change, this decision arises from confusion about the translation of the Hebrew word “almah” upon which the translations are based.

Because a degree of interpretation is required when translating such an ancient text, this is not the first time such confusion has arisen. For instance, St Jerome – who was one of the first people to translate the Bible into Latin – mistranslated a Hebrew word used to describe Moses as looking radiant as he returned from Mount Sinai. He misinterpreted “karan” as meaning “horned”, which is why there are many paintings of the event that portray Moses as having horns growing from his head. Ironically, St Jerome is the patron saint of translation.

Some spectators have urged caution on mistakenly assuming Norway is a non-religious nation. Post-doctoral fellow at the University of Oslo Thorgeir Kolshus suggested that religion was a private concept for many Norwegians, so measuring faith by church attendance is not accurate.

A play is also thought to have spurred on people’s interest in the religious text. Det Norske Teatret in Oslo recently hosted the last shows in a three-month run for Bibelen, a six-hour play the title of which translates to ‘Bible’. Crowds of thousands have headed to see the non-traditional show.

The Telegraph notes that the Stein Winge-directed play offers a new interpretation of the Bible. Jesus is shown to be drunk at the wedding in Cana when he turned water to wine. At the end of his life, he is shown dying by lethal injection rather than on the cross.