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
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