The controversy over Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ could soon be sounding its clarion call through publishing. Christian publisher Tyndale House announced last week it will release an official tie-in containing photo images from the movie along with accompanying Gospel passages, amid reports that several larger publishers were interested but shied away because of price. Gibson will write a foreword for the title.

Tyndale, which has published hot-button religious material in the past, had been negotiating with Gibson's production company, Icon, since BEA but only finalized a deal recently, at about the same time that Icon said it will release the movie. "Our initial reaction was curiosity more than anything else," said Tyndale's Dan Balow. "There's always a skepticism when you deal with Christian themes."

But after seeing the movie, the house felt the script was "exceedingly accurate" and decided to publish the glossy book, whose release it will coincide with the movie's on February 25. (After being turned down by several studios, Gibson is distributing the film himself with help from independent distributor Newmarket.) The house will publish the book as The Passion, the film's original name.

The movie, which depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus' life and reportedly shows graphic scenes of Jesus' torture, has been the subject of some high-profile criticism from Jewish groups. There was also a saber-tongued exchange of words between Gibson and the New York Times's Frank Rich, who, in a September column, said that Gibson was baiting Jews to promote the movie.

Balow said Tyndale will treat the book like all other big titles and expects sales through bookstores and mass merchandisers as well as Christian booksellers. "We aren't really troubled by the controversy. Tyndale has always published books that have not always gotten good press." (Tyndale has been criticized for some of the subject matter of the Left Behind series.) Balow did admit that the house might run into some rough patches. "People have likes and dislikes," he said. "We realize that stores in primarily Jewish areas may not pick up the book. We'll have to wait and see."