Playboy Portugal to shut after blasphemy outrage

Cover of Playboy Portugal July edition

The Portuguese edition of Hefner’s magazine showed Christ with topless models

BY David Cairns LAST UPDATED AT 16:10 ON Thu 8 Jul 2010

Playboy magazine is to terminate its Portuguese edition after an outcry over a photo shoot depicting Jesus Christ alongside topless models. It emerged yesterday that the Portuguese version of the men's magazine had recruited Christ as an unlikely cover star in a purported photo tribute to the late author Jose Saramago.

The pictures show an airbrushed, idealised Jesus with familiar centre-parting, long hair, beard and robes radiating an unearthly glow as he watches various topless models. Two women enjoy a lesbian clinch, another reads a book, a fourth seems to be a prostitute touting for business while the last woman appears to have died in Christ's arms.

"We did not see or approve the cover and pictorial in the July issue of Playboy Portugal," a spokeswoman for Hugh Hefner's empire told Gawker. "It is a shocking breach of our standards, and we would not have allowed it to be published if we had seen it in advance.

"As a result of this and other issues with the Portuguese publisher, we are in the process of terminating our agreement."

Jose Saramago's 1991 novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ is a fictional retelling of the life of Christ, seen from his perspective. Its publication caused outrage because it depicts a human, passionate Christ who ends up firmly opposed to God's plan to create a new religion through him.

In one particularly criticised scene, a shepherd tries, unsuccessfully, to persuade Christ to have sex with a sheep. The book caused such controversy in Catholic Portugal that Saramago moved to the Canary Islands to escape, dying there on June 18 this year.

It is hard to interpret Playboy's images as a tribute to Sarmago's work: their Christ is as idealised and unreal as that of any kitsch Catholic icon, not all-too human like Saramago's. In avoiding any contact between 'Christ' and his lovelies, the magazine demonstrates a distinct lack of bottle: the photographs could easily have been much more offensive – and truer to Saramago's vision - if they depicted Christ interacting with them.

While these images of Christ with pneumatic topless models have inevitably provoked outrage, it could be argued that they are more sexist than blasphemous. The gospels say Christ spent time with prostitutes, forgiving their sins. The photos depict this - though their depiction of prostitution is horribly glamourised.

The overall effect is of a cheap attempt to stir up outrage and grab publicity. It seems to have backfired. · 

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