Bookmaker Paddy Power has been requested to withdraw an advertising campaign featuring Jesus and the apostles gambling at the Last Supper following a stream of complaints from the public.

The billboard posters adapted Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting of the event to show Jesus with a stack of poker chips and other apostles playing cards and roulette.

Ireland's advertising watchdog, which requested the posters to be taken down, said it had received over 100 complaints. It said this was 'as many as we've had about anything in the past'. Another 100 objections were made directly to Paddy Power.

Frank Goodman, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, told Reuters News Agency that the adverts had breached a combination of guidelines referring to taste and decency as well as religion.

'There's also a general provision that ads should contain nothing that is likely to cause grave or widespread offence - this apparently has caused widespread offence,' he said.
 
The firm's spokesman, also called Paddy Power, said the campaign was intended to play off 'the unique Irish sense of humour' and expressed disappointment at the ASA decision. 'We still don't believe we've pushed the boundaries too far,' he said. 'Some people just take this stuff too seriously.'

The campaign is just one of several with a religious theme to spark controversy. Last week Sony apologised for an advert for the 10th anniversary of its PlayStation console which featured a man wearing a crown of thorns and the slogan 'Ten years of passion'.

And French fashion designer Francois Girbaud, in another adaptation of Da Vinci's Last Supper, showed Jesus as a woman with a table of glamorous disciples.

* Shares in Paddy Power closed 20 cent lower at €14.75 in Dublin this evening.