Row over BBC drama which shows Jesus crucified in a foetal position

London, UK - The BBC is facing accusations of rewriting the Easter story by claiming Christ was nailed to the cross in a foetal position.

The corporation is accused of "misleading" the public by ditching the traditional image of Jesus with arms outstretched, legs straight and hands nailed.

Makers of lavish new drama The Passion, which started last night, say they are challenging this image, because new historical evidence shows he probably did not die this way.

They instead maintain he likely died with his arms above his head, nails through his arms and his knees bent, when killed by the Romans.

But the corporation is being accused of ignoring evidence in the Bible and gratuitously offending Christians who cherish the image.

This comes just weeks after the broadcaster faced claims of exonerating Judas and Pontius Pilate in the same programme, which stars Joseph Mawle as Jesus.

Others have also hit out at the programme's portrayal of Jesus' mother Mary, after the programme suggested she had not known what was happening to her.

Speaking about the crucifixion row, Reverend George Curry, chairman of the Church Society, said: "They are misleading people by distorting the facts.

"That's a serious and dangerous thing to do, but sadly utterly predictable and regrettable. Jesus's nails went through his hands not his forearms.

"We should be true to history and the events that occurred."

Other scholars pointed out that the traditional image was important to Christians in understanding the event.

They also claimed it ignored what the Bible says and the image of Jesus "throwing his arms out in a symbol of love".

In the Book of John, Jesus says to Thomas: "Put your finger here; see my hands."

But production designer, Simon Elliott, defended the crucifixion scene, claiming they were trying to make the show as "historically accurate" as possible.

He said: "The Victorian image of Jesus doesn't tie in with the historical evidence.

"He was probably put on a crude wooden gibbet and made to stand in a loose, foetal position. It was fiendishly designed."

Elliott claimed that the position so well known to Christians was only one of a number of ways the Romans crucified people.

He added: "It is a minefield as everyone has such strong feelings about it."

But the decision to go with the new portrayal was based on "lengthy research", including the discovery of a crucified skeleton found near Jerusalem in 1968.

It is believed that in the foetal type position would have meant that his chest was crushed and he would have died of asphyxiation.

Mark Goodacre, associate professor of religion at Duke University, who advised producers, also defended the scene.

He claimed the Bible did not explain in any detail the type of crucifixion that was used.

The academic added: "The makers wanted something that wasn't the typical image that would surprise the viewers. This is not an attempt to be iconoclastic, but to get people to look again at the events surrounding his death."

The BBC has faced claims of trying to exonerate Judas, Pontius Pilate and High Priest Caiaphas in the programme.

Programme-makers have portrayed them in a sympathetic manner, claiming they have been dealt "a raw deal" by history.

Judas Iscariot is portrayed as torn between his loyalties to two fathers, Caiaphas and Jesus.

Pilate is shown struggling to manage his wife's social aspirations and his career as he tried to "keep a lid" on tensions in Jerusalem.

Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: "Yet again a revisionist slant has to be put on a story that is transparent.

"It's fine to have an alternative look at the motivation of people such as Caiaphas, Pilate and Judas, but the fact remains that these guys were instrumental in an innocent man meeting his death."

The Passion also stars James Nesbitt as Pilate, Ben Daniels as Caiaphas and ex-EastEnders actor Paul Nicholls as Judas.

The four-part BBC1 drama, which climaxes on Easter Sunday, will also feature Penelope Wilton as an "angrier" Mary.