I’m quite an enthusiastic supporter of electronic books in all their iterations. I think that long form writing has a wonderful future ahead of itself and that we’ve only seen the beginning of the benefits (and also destruction) of converting dead trees to atoms. And yet, for the student of ancient texts there is something lost in this migration. Ancient peoples had a deep association with the physicality of the mediums on which they wrote which in turn greatly affected their approach to them and even their thought processes involved in reading and writing.
One of the most striking portrayals of the immense significance of the physicality of a text is seen in the Smithsonian’s edition of The Jefferson Bible. They tried to reproduce as exactly as they could the edition of the Bible Jefferson made by literally cutting texts out of the New Testament, discarding some and rearranging others. They even produce Jefferson’s marginalia and chapter divisions written in his own hand. However, the most intriguing thing to me was that the publisher took pains (read expense) to represent a place where Jefferson glued a piece of a text in the margin. Here is a picture:
Writing is present on both sides of the flap and there appear to be pen marks in which Jefferson crossed out portions and such. All of this contributes to give a picture of editorial lengths Jefferson went toward creating this version of the New Testament. I wonder if this sense would be as strong if one were reading from a newly typeset edition in either print or electronic form? Personally, I doubt it.