Ein­stein’s ‘God let­ter’ sells for $2.9 mil­lion at auc­tion

Heir­loom re­mained in hands of orig­i­nal fam­ily un­til 2008 when it sold for more than $400K to an un­known bid­der

StarMetro Calgary - - CANADA & WORLD - James Bar­ron

NEW YORK—A 64-year-old let­ter by Al­bert Ein­stein, known as the “God let­ter” be­cause of its ru­mi­na­tions on for­mal re­li­gion, sold for al­most $2.9 mil­lion (U.S.) in Man­hat­tan on Tues­day.

Christie’s, the auc­tion house that had es­ti­mated the let­ter would sell for $1 mil­lion to $1.5 mil­lion, said the page­and-a-half mes­sage went for $2,892,500 af­ter a four-minute bid­ding bat­tle be­tween two clients on the tele­phone. Christie’s did not iden­tify the win­ner.

It beat what Christie’s said had been the most valu­able Ein­stein let­ter sold, a typed copy of his 1939 note to for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt that Christie’s sold for $2.1 mil­lion in 2002.

That let­ter warned of the pos­si­bil­ity “of the con­struc­tion of ex­tremely pow­er­ful bombs” and served as a cat­a­lyst for re­search that led to the Man­hat­tan Project.

Ein­stein, who was 74 when he wrote the God let­ter, was re­spond­ing to a book by Ger­man philoso­pher Eric Gutkind ti­tled Choose Life: The bib­li­cal Call to Re­volt. Ein­stein used the let­ter to re­ject the idea of a God who plays an ac­tive part in ev­ery­day life, an­swer­ing in­di­vid­ual prayers.

He also de­clared that he was any­thing but en­thralled with Ju­daism, even as he said he was proud to be a Jew.

As The Times re­ported in pre­view­ing the sale of the let­ter:

The God let­ter, writ­ten the year be­fore Ein­stein’s death, seems to out­line Ein­stein’s view of for­mal re­li­gion and the idea of a God who plays an ac­tive part in ev­ery­day life, an­swer­ing in­di­vid­ual prayers.

“He did not be­lieve in a God who went around choos­ing favourite sports teams or peo­ple,” Wal­ter Isaac­son, the au­thor of the 2007 bi­og­ra­phy Ein­stein, said in an in­ter­view.

But at other times Ein­stein de­scribed him­self as “not an athe­ist,” and the let­ter does not an­nul the seem­ingly spir­i­tual char­ac­ter­is­tics of his think­ing.

Ein­stein used the word “God” only once in the let­ter, but made clear that he and Gutkind saw re­li­gion dif­fer­ently.

“The word God is for me noth­ing but the ex­pres­sion of and prod­uct of hu­man weak­nesses, the Bi­ble a col­lec­tion of ven­er­a­ble but still rather prim­i­tive leg­ends,” Ein­stein wrote. “No in­ter­pre­ta­tion, no mat­ter how sub­tle, can (for me) change any­thing about this.”

The let­ter ap­par­ently re­mained in the hands of Gutkind’s heirs un­til 2008 (he died in 1965), when it was auc­tioned for $404,000 in Lon­don. The buyer then was not iden­ti­fied. It went up for sale again, on eBay in 2012, for $3 mil­lion. Peter Klarnes, a vice pres­i­dent at Christie’s, in­spects Al­bert Ein­stein’s “God let­ter.” The let­ter re­jects the idea of a God who plays an ac­tive part in ev­ery­day life. THE NEW YORK TIMES


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