- Don’t Fucking Touch Me
Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. Mary who is not “Mary,” who is not the whore she seems to be. Imagine her wonder as the corpse walks towards her, hard drops of blood on his temple wettening as night turns to morning and history begins again. In the King James Bible, Jesus emerged and “saith to her, ‘Touch me not: for I am not yet ascended to my Father.’” The World English Bible takes issue with touch, maintains that our lord and savior looked on to Mary, his devoted disciple, and told the poor girl, “Don’t hold me.” In Latin, noli me tangere.
Jesus, ping-ponged between death, divine daddy, and back again, loses something in translation. Always one for a foot bath or a hand-laying, post-resurrection Jesus isn’t so forthcoming with his physical favors. While Jesus is certainly going through something, is visibly shaken—waking up in tombs, climbing in and out of his flesh like a literal bodysuit—I have to feel for Mary on this one. He’s just not the man she used to hold.
Whether we’re speaking in Latin, English, or tongues, the translation gap between experience and articulation will always be insurmountable. Not insurmountable as if we cannot live with it, within it—we do. We do not understand one another, and yet we keep living. Scholars still debate the meaning of noli me tangere. Like a particularly invested girlfriend, they attempt to salvage signification out of Jesus’s cold homecoming. Maybe his [End Page 131] wounds were still sore? Perhaps he was ashamed of his nudity? You should have just trusted in your faith, Mary, instead of reaching for physical proof of the resurrection. Alternatively, he’s just not that into you.
The reclamation of Mary Magdalene is a bit of a feminist fuck you. Long overlooked as a whore who Jesus saved—a misreading—Magdalene finally got her due as a devoted disciple. A female apostle in fishnet tights is easily reimagined as an anachronistic freedom fighter. I loved the idea of reading the New Testament as an anti-authoritarian Bonnie and Clyde. An olive-skinned sexpot and her divine boi redistributing wealth and turning water into wine? I’d never heard of a more glamorous set of Jews. So for a certain set of girls I knew growing up, Mary Magdalene was like Monica Lewinsky or Lil’ Kim. Sex positive, misunderstood, very cool.
Revisiting Mary Magdalene now, I am less enchanted by the broad strokes of her, the politics we projected, her painted red nails reaching lasciviously for the washboard abs of the Messiah. I am struck, viscerally, by noli me tangere. It reaches across centuries and breaks the thin layer of skin between fact and fiction just to slap me in the face. The older I get, the harder it is to force my heroines to stand still. Mary struts down off her pedestal and washes the thick calluses on her lover’s foot, hard clumps of dirt unclenching in the bucket of warm water she holds between her knees. It is somewhere between a chore and a blessing, and some days she does it mechanically, walks to the well thinking about other things, the family she left behind, the sun setting over the desert. But today she runs her right hand over the arch as he tenses his muscles, and as she feels his heart beat there, she holds it in her hands. She knows him there, knows him more fully than the apostles napping in the waning light, knows him in a way she cannot know a Divine that she’s never held between her legs. She thinks, this man must be a gift from God. She thinks that nights will be like this forever, that her hold on him is stronger than His, or ours. A tragedy of mistranslation.
I think that people still insist that Mary Magdalene was a whore because she knew her savior with her hands. But the art of touching isn’t about men. It’s not about pleasing someone there . . . just right. Touching...