The BBC has provoked anger from Christian activists for a Good Friday programme with Melvyn Bragg, which suggests Christ was married to Mary Magdalene, pointing to a series of ancient writings which describe Jesus kissing her on the mouth.
Christian Concern, a religious lobby group, has issued an action alert to its members urging them to complain to the broadcaster about the programme "The Mystery of Mary Magdalene".
The programme shows Bragg in Israel and Palestine, with director Rob Cowling, to explore the real Mary Magdalene, including looking at the Gnostic Gospels, a set of ancient writings not included in the New Testament, which suggest Mary had a sexual relationship with Jesus, and she is even referred to once as being his "wife".
Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of the campaign group, told HuffPost UK: "Instead of promoting better understanding and proper investigation, the BBC mounts a provocative attack on the person of Christ, based on sloppy scholarship, half truth and insinuation.
Williams told HuffPost UK her organisation were "calling for a follow up programme to set the record straight."
She said the timing of the programme, noon on Good Friday, was particularly offensive and "baffling" because it is the time Christians believe Jesus was put on the cross.
"At midday on Good Friday people across the country will be remembering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ who died to bring forgiveness and reconciliation with God. It is a key marker in the Christian calendar.
"Yet the BBC sees fit to broadcast a 'flagship' Easter documentary that impugns the purity of Jesus and even suggests that Mary Magdalene may have been his lover.
"Christianity stands up to rigorous investigation and historical scrutiny but this 'documentary' relies on suggestion, speculation and highly dubious scholarship based on documents of very doubtful provenance.
"It is extraordinary that the BBC should broadcast a programme of this nature at this time - and present it as an Easter feature.
"It reinforces worryingly superficial understandings of the historical record of Jesus Christ and of what Christians today believe."
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, told the Daily Telegraph that the programme would be “hugely offensive” to devout Christians because it amounted to the “sexualisation of Christ”.
A BBC spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The film looked at the different interpretations of Mary Magdalene from her portrayal in the New Testament and a series of texts known as the gnostic gospels, through to her recent portrayals in popular culture.
"The programme concluded that the religious importance of Mary Magdalene was as witness of the events of the very first Easter and was, therefore appropriate viewing for Good Friday.”
A sexual relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus has been a fascination for authors and Hollywood, and formed the basis for the film The Last Temptation of Christ and the wildly popular Da Vinci Code novels by Dan Brown.
In a piece for the Telegraph, Bragg writes that many different "Marys" had been merged into one person from many ancient writings. "In what was surely a purposeful plan these Marys were merged into one.
"It was then that Pope Gregory at the head of what was now a state church got to work and “proved” that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute who had repented and spent a lifetime in penance. This provided both a warning and an example to all womankind. This was their destiny.
"I am no longer a believer but this is one of the great metaphors, and the fact that a woman, Mary Magdalene, was chosen to receive this message is a great testament to her. It could have changed history. But the masculine, misogynist culture ruled that out."
The BBC told HuffPost UK it could not calculate the number of complaints received until after the Bank Holiday.
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more