In the 1990s, Assmann and his wife Aleida Assmann developed a theory of cultural and communicative memory that has received much international attention. He is also known beyond Egyptology circles for his interpretation of the origins of monotheism, which he considers as a break from earlier cosmotheism, first with Atenism and later with the Exodus from Egypt of the Israelites.
Writings on Egyptian and other religions
Assmann suggests that the ancient Egyptian religion had a more significant influence on Judaism than is generally acknowledged. He used the term "normative inversion" to suggest that some aspects of Judaism were formulated in direct reaction to Egyptian practices and theology. He ascribed the principle of normative inversion to a principle established by Manetho which was used by Maimonides in his references to the Sabians. His book The Price of Monotheism received some criticism for his notion of The Mosaic Distinction.
1996 Max Planck Award for Research
1998 German Historians’ Prize
1998 Honorary Doctorate in Theology from the Theology Faculty, Munster
Ägypten: Eine Sinngeschichte (Munich: Hanser 1996; Frankfurt: Fischer, 1999); trans. The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs (New York : Metropolitan Books, 2002; Harvard University Press, 2003).
Moses der Ägypter: Entzifferung einer Gedächtnisspur. Munich 1998.
Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997; 1998) ISBN0-674-58739-1
Weisheit und Mysterium: Das Bild der Griechen von Ägypten. Munich 2000. ISBN3-406-45899-8
Herrschaft und Heil: Politische Theologie in Altägypten, Israel und Europa. Munich 2000. ISBN3-596-15339-5
Religion und kulturelles Gedächtnis: Zehn Studien (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2000). ISBN3-406-45915-3
Religion and Cultural Memory: Ten Studies (Cultural Memory in the Present) trans. Rodney Livingstone, SUP (2005) ISBN0-8047-4523-4