John 20:17 begins: “Jesus saith unto her [IE Mary Magdelene], Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father….” The key expression “touch me not” reflects Greek mE mou haptou (negative, first person singular pronoun, present middle imperative). The JST rather famously changes this to “hold me not,” which arguably is a stronger translation of the Greek verb haptO (this change may have derived from some secondary source available to Joseph). English translations are pretty evenly divided among touch, hold and cling as renderings of this verb here (Nibley’s take was “do not cling to me so!”).
Last night Derek Knox floated a query on the LDS Students of the Ancient Near East Facebook group whether anyone had Nestle-Aland 27th edition (a critical text of the NT) who could post a picture of this verse and the related critical apparatus. I happen to have that book, so I posted the requested picture. Derek was interested in a conjecture identified in the apparatus by a certain Lipsius, which deletes the negative mE, so that instead of “Touch me not,” Jesus would have said “Touch me!”
I was kind of fascinated by the suggestion; it’s not one I had ever heard of before. (The notation for it in the apparatus is pretty obscure; if I didn’t know what I was looking for I’m sure I never would have noticed it myself.) A little online searching led me to a detailed treatment of this suggestion: Jan Krans, “To Touch or Not to Touch: Lepsius on John 20:17,” the Amsterdam NT Weblog, available here.
First, the name Lipsius in the apparatus is incorrect; it should be Lepsius. (Oddly the 13th through the 25th editions correctly had Lepsius, but it was changed to Lipsius in the 26th and 27th editions. The mistaken Lipsius was a reference to a 19th century theologian, Richard Lipsius.)
The correct reference was to a missionary, Johannes Lepsius (1858-1926), who was the son of Carl Richard Lepsius, a famous Egyptologist. From 1898 to 1911 the son edited a journal, Das Reicht Christi, which is where his conjecture may be found. Lepsius was a harmonist, and his interest was to harmonize the details of the resurrection accounts among the Gospels (an instinct shared by Joseph Smith in the JST).
Lepsius’s argument was not really text critical. In part it was literary, comparing passages such as verses 20 and 27 and Luke 24 (where Jesus encouraged witnesses to touch him), and in part it was more source critical, positing dittography in a (supposed) Aramaic original. Given the harmonist motivation for the suggestion, Krans suggests it does not belong in the apparatus, or at least not under his name.
However, a certain Cristoph Gersdorf (1763-1834), had made the same suggestion on completely different grounds. He was a German pastor who wrote a single influential book published in 1816: Beitrage zur Sprach-Characteristik der Schriftsteller des Neuen Testaments: Eine Sammlung meist neuer Bemerkungen. Krans paraphrases his reasoning as follows (having to do with the similarity of the words not and me in the Greek text):
Exegetically, the verse is both strange in itself, and odd compared with John 20:27. Textcritically, the concurrence of the variant readings μή μου ἅπτου, μὴ ἅπτου μου and even the difficult μὴ ἅπτου may suggest that an original μου ἅπτου was miscopied as μὴ ἅπτου, to which subsequently μου was supplied in two different ways, as ἅπτου evidently needs an object. One can also imagine ‘orthodox’ and ‘heterodox’ corruption alike, for a text in which the risen Jesus asks a woman to touch him may not be to everyone’s taste. Finally, from a psychological point of view, one would more readily imagine fear to be the first reaction of someone confronted with a friend who is risen from the dead.
Derek mentioned to me that some manuscripts at the end of verse 16 add kai prosedramen apsasthai autou “and she ran to embrace him,” presumably motivated by verse 17.
So, does this mean that the familiar text is wrong? Probably not. But still I found it both sweet and charming, and therefore fun to think about. On this reading, Mary runs to embrace him, and instead of brushing her off, Jesus responds welcomingly and warmly, “Hold me!”