The Crucifixion of Christ “wasn’t as bad as it’s been painted”, an outspoken Marxist academic will claim on the BBC this month.

Christ on the Cross: ‘He got off pretty lightly’ because it only took him three hours to die, says Professor Terry Eagleton, Professor of Cultural Theory at the University of Manchester.

He adds that Jesus’s scourging was a “blessing in disguise” because it hastened his death. He also attacks modern Christianity for siding with the rich and abandoning the poor.

In his talk, the 64-year-old professor recalls being taught at his Roman Catholic school that the Crucifixion was the most excruciating form of torment any human had ever endured, but he said this was “absurd”.

“The Crucifixion of Jesus wasn’t as bad as its been painted,” he says. “All things considered, he got off pretty lightly…If the New Testament account is to be believed it took him only three hours to die whereas a lot of those killed by this hideous mode of execution thrashed around on their crosses for days.” He concludes his talk with an attack on contemporary Christianity, which he says has abandoned the poor and dispossessed in favour of the “rich and aggressive”.

He continues: “It’s horrified by the sight of a female breast but nothing like as horrified by the obscene inequalities between rich and poor…By and large, it worships a god fashioned blasphemously in its own image and likeness.”

Responding to the remarks last night, Bishop Wright said: “It is all a bit tired, this rhetoric. It is all a bit sad…Of course, caricatures of Christianity are all over the place, but they do not reflect reality. He should get out more.”

Tony Kilmister, a vice-president of the Prayer Book Society, said: “Terry Eagleton is totally belittling of Christianity. How would he like it if he was strung up and scourged, let alone nailed to a cross? You would think that the BBC would let Christianity have a free run in the run-up to Easter, rather than handing the microphone to a Marxist.”

The BBC has, of course, been criticized but they say that in the run up to Easter talks will be given by six other well-known figures offering a range of perspectives. The program will be broadcast on Radio Four on Feb 20.