A letter signed and sent by German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein to author and philosopher Eric Gutkind in 1954 realized $2.89 million USD (about $3.85 million Cdn.) at an auction in New York earlier this month.
Offered as the only lot of the Dec. 4 sale by Christie’s, the two-page letter – known to history as the “God Letter” – included its original cover; Gutkind’s 1952 book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt, which was the reason for the letter; and a black-and-white photograph of Gutkind.
In the letter, which is dated Jan. 3, 1954, Einstein denounces the religious beliefs espoused in Gutkind’s book as “childish superstitions” in what the auction house called the Nobel Prize winner’s “single most famous letter on God, his Jewish identity, and man’s eternal search for meaning.”
Estimated at between $1 million USD and $1.5 million USD, the lot nearly doubled its high estimate and set a world record for the sale of an Einstein letter.
One year before his death, Einstein, then aged 74 and living in Princeton, N.J., wrote: “The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change anything about this.”
RELIGIOUS CALL TO ARMS
Gutkind’s third book, Choose Life presented the Bible as a call to arms and Judaism and Israel as incorruptible.
“Israel is not merely the late result of a long evolution,” wrote Gutkind. “It is an intrinsic part of reality, from the very beginning. Because it is a maximal possibility of evolution, it is the very principle of evolution.”
Born in Berlin, Gutkind eventually left Germany for the U.S. in the 1930s.
He died in 1965, more than a decade after Einstein sent him the “God Letter.”