Life of Brian
Life of Brian praised by Britain's one of most respected theologiansSony Pictures

One of Britain's most respected theologians has said that Monty Python's Life of Brian is a reasonably accurate depiction of the life of Jesus and praised it for its use of satire.

Rev Prof Richard Burridge, dean of King's College London, who was recently presented with the Vatican's top theological award by Pope Francis, said the film was misunderstood at its time of release, the Telegraph reported.

He made his comments as Monty Python's Michael Palin and John Cleese discussed the reaction to the film when it was released in 1979. They were chastised on TV by the Bishop of Southwark, Rev Mervyn Stockwood and Malcolm Muggeridge, a Catholic journalist, for irreverence and blasphemy.

Many critics wanted the film banned and the bishop jeered at the comedians that they would receive their "30 pieces of silver for it".

In the Life of Brian, Jesus appears only once, to give the Sermon on the Mount, and Brian, who goes to hear him, is mistaken for the prophet.

Burridge said that rather than being a blasphemous travesty, the film was a "remarkable tribute to the life of Jesus".

Burridge said: "What is interesting about what Cleese says is that when they sat down to read the gospels they were struck by Jesus, his teaching, and realised that you couldn't actually make a joke of these things, which is why the accusation from Mervyn Stockwood and Malcolm Muggeridge that they were trying to use Jesus was so patently false.

John Cleese and Michael Palin
John Cleese and Michael Palin discussing controversy the film caused on BBC Radio 4BBC

"I think it is an extraordinary tribute to the life and work and teaching of Jesus – that they couldn't actually blaspheme or make a joke out of it.

"What they did was take ordinary British people and transpose them into an historical setting and did a great satire on closed minds and people who follow blindly. Then you have them splitting into factions ... it is a wonderful satire on the way that Jesus's own teaching has been used to persecute others.

"They were satirising closed minds, they were satirising fundamentalism and persecution of others and at the same time saying the one person who rises above all this was Jesus, which is remarkable and [something] that the Church missed that at the time."

Palin said: "I didn't know what the Church's attitude was going to be."

Cleese added of the TV debate: "[I] was astonished at how stupid [the two members of the Church] were and how boring the debate became.

"I think the sad thing was that there was absolutely no attempt at a proper discussion - no attempt to find any common ground."