For a $2,000 prize and a place on the cover of a Catholic newsweekly's millennium issue, artists worldwide are being invited to create a bold new image of Jesus to mark the 2,000th anniversary of his birth.

The contest welcomes all visual media--oil painting, water color, sculpture, computer art, stained glass, silk screens, even photographs.

The only sure bet is that the winning entry, due by Oct. 18, won't resemble the traditional images of Jesus evoked by artists of the past.

"Until our time, this was the most popular subject for artists," said Michael Farrell, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, which is sponsoring the contest. "If you are giving us a repeat of any of those images, it's not likely you are on the winning ticket. There ought to be something new that we have never seen before."

Nigel Holmes, former graphics chief for Time magazine and a leading graphics designer, said the contest will appeal to the growing ranks of computer artists.

"There are some who'd say, 'I wouldn't touch it' and others who'd love to do it, because it's such an odd kind of challenge," Holmes said. "I might do it myself. It's a brilliant marketing idea."

The contest arose from Farrell's frustration over the buildup to the new millennium.

"Ask anybody about the millennium, and they talk about survivalists going into the mountains or glitches on their computers," he said from the National Catholic Reporter's Kansas City, Mo., office. "Nobody is talking about this extraordinary man who came from heaven 2000 years ago."

Farrell said the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with five entries already having arrived since the contest was announced July 30.

"I did some talk shows in Canada," he said. "Maybe 1 percent of the callers, a bit on the conservative side, talked about graven images and said we were wrong to be promoting this."

In its article announcing the contest, the independent publication questioned why so few fresh, captivating images of Jesus have emerged in the late 20th century. "Can it be that the spirit of the age excludes messiahs and saviors?" it asked.

Artists must send slides showing their new look of Jesus and a $20 entry fee. A three-member jury will select 10 finalists.

The winner and three runners-up will be chosen by Sister Wendy Beckett, the 69-year-old British nun who stars in a public television series about art. Each runner-up will be awarded $200. The winners will be announced and displayed in the Christmas issue, due out Dec. 24.

Holmes said that rather than trying to depict Jesus's face, some graphic designers might offer a corporate-style logo symbolizing modern-day Christianity. Another possibility for computer artists would be to scan in a person of every ethnic race to make a composite portrait.

"You'd come up with a sort of universal face, and you could say, 'Here's the new face of Jesus--he is everyone,"' Holmes said. "You'd offend somebody, no matter what you did. I'd hate to be in the judges' shoes."

Contest details are available on the National Catholic Reporter's Web site, www.natcath.com.