Body Worlds creator uses corpse for crucifixion
By Bo Wilson, Evening Standard 21.09.06
Channel 4 is to broadcast a documentary showing a human corpse being hung on a cross to depict Christ's suffering.
Anatomist Gunther von Hagens will use a real body to show how people died when crucified in the 90-minute film.
The programme, Crucifixion, is already causing controversy, with Christians condemning it as blasphemous and one group threatening prosecution.
Although Channel 4 insists the body will not represent Christ specifically, a memo leaked to the Evening Standard states that it would indeed portray Jesus.
Von Hagens, who created the Body Worlds exhibits using his preservation technique of plastination, has been widely criticised for his work, which included an autopsy on TV in 2002. This is the first time he has touched on religion.
Steve Jenkins, spokesman for the Church of England, said: "This will upset and offend a lot of Christians as it seems he is using the Crucifixion simply to grab attention."
Christian Voice, which led the protest against broadcasting Jerry Springer The Opera, has announced it may prosecute on grounds of disrespect to Christ. Director Stephen Green said: "This sounds gratuitously offensive and blasphemous. It could well be we would want to take some action against it."
Crucifixion will be broadcast on More4. Filming has not yet started. A spokeswoman for Channel 4 said: "This is a science documentary, a history documentary on the anatomy after crucifixion. It will not be a specific representation of Christ."
But the production company making the film, Firefly, describes the portrayal as just that. In a document, Crucifixion was described as "a 90-minute film for More4 in which Gunther plastinates 'Jesus' ".
Firefly has produced programmes such as the BBC's The Thieving Headmistress. Producer Nick Curwin warned employees to keep Crucifixion under wraps. They were told that the programme and otherswere "highly confidential".
Despite Channel 4's insistence that von Hagens's work is educational, Mr Curwin also described the shock value of another programme, Gunther's ER. He said: "Gunther-choppingupbodies-in-front-of-an-a
Though he has only an honorary professorship, von Hagens uses the title and last year was fined for doing so. In January 2004, German magazine Der Spiegel claimed he had used bodies from Chinese executions. He said he did not know where they had come from.
• Research into crucifixion has involved other scientists hanging cadavers to a cross, such as Pierre Barbet in the Thirties. The Royal Academy of Arts has a cast of a man on a cross - the corpse belonged to murderer James Legg, executed in 1801.