'The word God is...the expression and product of weaknesses'

Einstein’s ‘God letter’ to go on sale for $1 million

A year before his death, he wrote to friend and philosopher Eric Gutkind of his thoughts on religion, the Bible and being a part of the Jewish people

German-born American physicist Albert Einstein, 1946. (Central Press/Getty Images via JTA)
German-born American physicist Albert Einstein, 1946. (Central Press/Getty Images via JTA)

NEW YORK  — A handwritten letter from Albert Einstein about his thoughts on God, religion and his search for meaning is to go on sale in New York, valued at up to $1.5 million, Christie’s said Wednesday.

Written a year before the legendary physicist died in 1955, his name synonymous with genius, Einstein writes in German from Princeton, New Jersey to German philosopher Eric Gutkind.

“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,” writes the physicist, best known for his theory of relativity.

“No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change anything about this.”

Albert Einstein, during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. (Wikipedia/public domain)

The one-and-a-half-page letter will go on sale on December 4, estimated by Christie’s to fetch between $1 million and $1.5 million.

The letter (full text here) was previously offered at auction in 2008, bought by a private collector for $404,000, Christie’s said.

“It is one of the definitive statements in the religion vs science debate,” says Peter Klarnet, senior specialist in books and manuscripts at the auction house.

The son of secular Ashkenazi Jews and forced to flee Germany after Adolf Hitler took power, Einstein did not exclude Judaism from his critique.

“For me the unadulterated Jewish religion is, like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition,” he writes to Gutkind.

“And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples.

“As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot perceive anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

Last October, a note that Einstein had given a courier in Tokyo briefly describing his theory on happy living sold at auction in Jerusalem for $1.56 million, Winner’s auction house said.

A picture taken on March 6, 2018 shows a signed letter by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein dated 1928 concerning the formalization of the “Third Stage of the Theory of Relativity” on display at Winner’s auction house in Jerusalem, prior to being auctioned later in the night with the rest of a series of nine. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

“While Einstein letters and manuscripts appear with some frequency at auction, those of great importance and significance do not,” said Klarnet.

“In the broadest sense, it is similar to Einstein’s 1939 letter to (US president) F.D.R. warning of German efforts to build the bomb that we sold for $2 million in 2002,” he added.

The letter, already been shown in Shanghai, goes on public view in New York from November 30 to December 3, Christie’s said.

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