NEARLY nine out of 10 children get their ideas about Jesus from religious education lessons, according to 13-year-olds interviewed in a new survey.
But only half of them knew that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
And some thought that parables told by Jesus included secular stories such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf, as well as Old Testament accounts such as Noah's Ark and Joseph's coat of many colours.
Researchers at Exeter University are calling for an overhaul of RE syllabuses to correct the "serious mismatch" represented by the Jesus of RE lessons.
Professor Terence Copley, professor of religious education at Exeter, said:
"Young people deserve a syllabus that reflects the pictures of Jesus in world religions, not some mutation that has survived only in RE."
The survey questioned 542 Year 8 pupils from four schools across England. Half of the pupils said they were Christian, 22 per cent said they were Muslim, and 21 per cent said they had no religion.
One in 12 thought Jesus was a fictional character, while many pupils demonstrated confusion about him, said Professor Copley.
One in three said they did not understand the miracles or the resurrection, and the miracles and parables were often mixed up.
The good Samaritan was the most commonly quoted parable, although two-thirds of those pupils who quoted a parable were unable to offer a relevant message for it.
Questions raised by pupils about Jesus included: "If he is sort of God, how can he sit next to him in heaven?" and "Why can't he fly like Superman?"
In general, pupils agreed that Jesus was a special person who healed people, loved everyone, thought of others before himself, and helped people.
Pupils most likely to say that Jesus's central message related to how you treated your neighbour were Christians or Sikhs. Those who said his central message was to love God tended to be Muslims.
TES Teacher, 30-31