Some have heralded Albert Einstein as a scientist who patently rejected the existence of God, however the reality is a bit more complicated than that. In fact, the famed theorist’s views on faith and religion seem difficult to put in a definitive box, but the assumption that Einstein patently rejected the Bible’s teachings is contradicted by the auctioning of a copy of the holy book that he once inscribed.
Astonishingly, the Bible in question, which had a pre-sale estimate of between $1,500 and $2,500, fetched $68,500 at Bonhams’ Fine Books and Manuscripts auction on June 25.
Einstein and his wife Elsa signed the wrote in the book in 1932, 23 years before the scientist died at age 76. In addition to signing it, the scientist wrote that the text is an “inexhaustible” source of wisdom and solace and that individuals should read it frequently, as a press release announcing the sale explains.
The Bible was a gift to Einstein family friend Harriet Hamilton, an American. Here’s how the auction house describes the book:
Einstein’s inscription is on the front free endpaper: “Dies Buch ist eine [?]schönsfliche Guelle der Lebensweisheit und des Trostes. Lesen Sie oft darinn und geschenken Sie dabei / Ihren / A. Einstein.” Einstein advises that the Bible is a great source of wisdom and consolation and should be read frequently.
Any opinion expressed by Einstein on the Bible is of intense interest. He went through a devout phase as a child which ended around age 12; afterward he never subscribed to organized religion. Here, however, he espouses a comforting, humanist view to a friend of his wife, dramatically different from the post-Holocaust opinion Einstein offered to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, referring to the Bible as a “collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish” (ALS dated Jan 3, 1954, sold at Bloomsbury, May 15, 2008, lot 303).
Not much is known of the recipient, Harriet Hamilton, but a letter she co-wrote with Elsa Einstein to T.V. Kármán is retained by the Einstein archives in Pasadena.
Clearly, Einstein had some mixed views about the Bible and religion and it’s likely that the Holocaust and its aftermath impacted his views on theology and the world at large.
Regardless, Bonhamas was more than content with the end results of the sale — more than 40 times the sum that was expected.
“We are very pleased with the price realized for the Einstein Bible in the auction,” explained Christina Geiger, director of the fine books and manuscripts department at Bonhamas New York. “Einstein didn’t identify with organized religion as an adult, so the inscription is an extraordinary insight into his sentiments in the early 1930s.”
Einstein was mostly an agnostic, although he did separate himself from the atheist label and seemed more uncertain about the Almighty than he was definitive surrounding God’s character and existence.
(H/T: New York Times)