The book, "I.N.R.I.", a modern retelling of the New Testament is a joint work by one of France's most respected photographers and a well-known novelist. The making of the album, which cost pounds 150,000, was subsidised by the French Ministry of Culture.
The declared intention is to bring the story of Christ alive for a modern and youthful audience by placing it in the context and settings of the 1990s. The authors say that this is a revival of a Western artistic tradition, where the Bible story was told in contemporary dress and contemporary settings up to the 16th century.
The pictures were posed and taken by the photographer and film-director Bettina Rheims. She took the official photographs when Jacques Chirac became president in 1995. The words for the glossy album (Price pounds 42) were written by the novelist, Serge Bramly.
In the course of the 218 pages, Jesus and Mary appear in a number of different modern guises, as old people, young people, homosexuals and heterosexuals and from a variety of racial backgrounds.
The picture of the crucified Jesus as a young woman dressed only in a brief loin-cloth appears on the cover. Judas is shown as a suicide victim, revolver in hand, in an empty room with faded wall-paper. Other settings include rubbish dumps and a run-down hospital in the Paris suburbs.
Father Olivier de la Brosse, spokesman for the Catholic Church in France, said the book "swims in an unhealthy atmosphere of homosexual and lesbian images."
He added: "The authors say they want to modernise the message of Christ. To do that, they would have to stick close to this message but theirs is spiritually impoverished ... a portrait of a hallucinatory world."
An organisation called AGRIF, a pressure group to defend traditional values, run by a National Front regional councillor, failed yesterday in a bid to have the book banned.
An exhibition of photographs from the book is touring the world from next year, finishing in Nazareth.Reuse content