(Nehemet-awai, Nehemet-ꜥawy, Nehemet-ꜥaway, Nehemetâwayt, Nahmauit, Nehemanwet, Nehemanit) Nehmetaway is depicted anthropomorphically, usually in a fashion similar to Hathor, sometimes with a sistrum over her head, and frequently nursing an infant identified with Horus, this seemingly in the sense of legitimating the transmission of sovereignty. Her consort is Thoth, and her close association with him can sometimes lead to Nehmetaway being depicted as ibis-headed. The name Nehmetaway has been interpreted to mean “Rescuer of the one who is robbed” or “who recovers the stolen”, epithets which it should be noted may refer, beyond the narrowly judicial sphere, to the vindication of Osiris. Late forms of her name, however, which include an n, reflected in the Greek form Nemanous, suggest a reading “She who removes the claw/talon,” i.e., of the oppressor, or, alternately, “the beautiful savior” (Depauw & Smith 2004, p. 71).
In his biographical inscription, Petosiris of Hermopolis, a high priest of Thoth (late fourth-early third century BCE) records having built (or rebuilt) a temple to Nehmetaway. Petosiris states that he built at Hermopolis a “Festive Chapel of the Goddesses … its face turned east.” This reference to plural Goddesses is sometimes thought to refer to joint worship of Nehmetaway and Wenut. Indeed, Lefebvre (1921) reads Petosiris as having built one temple to Nehmetaway in identification with Wenut, and one for Nehmetaway in identification with Hathor, “lady of the southern sycamore”, whom Petosiris characterizes as “the like [mjtt] of Nehmetaway, the Mother of the King.” (Lefebvre thus reads line 56f of Petosiris’s inscription as “I built the house of Nehmetaway in the form [lit. ‘in the agency’, m ir.t] of Wenut,” while Lichtheim 1980, p. 47, reads “I built the house of Nehmetaway, the one who made what is.” Lichtheim also, curiously, reads “Mother of the God” at 58 instead of “Mother of the King”.) A significant temple for Nehmetaway built at Hermopolis by the Emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96 CE) may have been a renovation of one of these earlier structures. (On this temple in general, see Snape 1989).
Some have seen a reference to Nehmetaway in the deity Plutarch refers to as “the first of the Muses at Hermopolis,” whom “they call Isis as well as Justice [Dikaiosunê],” (Isis and Osiris 352B). (Note that Greek sources referring to Isis of Hermopolis may refer to Nehmetaway in other cases as well, as in an aretalogy characterizing Isis of Hermopolis as hêgemonis, “sovereign” (Pap. Ox. XI, 1380, 52; cited in Zivie 1983, p. 253-254).) Nehmetaway’s association with justice is underscored by an unusual orthography for her name at the temple built for her by Domitian, where the ‘m’ is written with a feather of Ma’et.
An ostracon with a Demotic inscription (translated in Depauw & Smith 2004) provides crucial evidence for an ecstatic cult of “Nehemanit who dwells in the marsh,” who “when they are drunk, they will see … by means of the vessel”, and whom one “makes love before” and celebrates through feasting. Nehmetaway/Nehemanit is also identified here with a Goddess known as Ai (perhaps a form of Iusâas), and as Tꜣy, ‘the Image’ (from ti.t)—possibly expressing a function similar to that of the ‘eye of Re’—and as ‘the mr.t-Goddess’, associating her with Meret (compare Plutarch’s characterization of Nehmetaway as ‘first of the Muses’).
Fragments of a mythological manual from Tebtunis reveal that Nehmetaway featured in the Hermopolitan version of the Distant/Returning Goddess cycle. Playing the role played in the most widespread versions by Tefnut, Nehmetaway is also identified in this context with Horit. “Nehmetaway is there [Hermopolis] as Horit. It is her who allows the throat of Shu to breathe since she was brought from the faraway region for her initiation to Shu in the great lake while the land was performing a festival for the lord of Ma’et,” (TM 5, 24-5, trans. Jørgensen 2014, p. 88). Nehmetaway, symbolized here by the menkhet (mꜥnḫt), an amulet in the form of a necklace counterpoise, is desired by Seth “in multiplying for himself the possessions of Geb” (TM 6, 5-6, Jørgensen p. 236), that is, Seth claims her as the heir of Geb, indicating a link between the Distant/Returning Goddess myth and that of Geb’s rape of Tefnut. Nehmetaway flees from Seth and takes refuge “inside Naunet,” a noteworthy variant of the Distant Goddess’ destination, reflecting the importance of the Ogdoad at Hermopolis. Nephthys and Thoth go to Nehmetaway in Naunet and convince her to return with them “on the true [mꜣꜥ] path” to Hermopolis, where she takes up residence in the temple of the Ogdoad and is reunited with her brother (i.e., Shu) (TM 6, 7-9, Jørgensen p. 236).
The earliest known reference to Nehmetaway is in the Speos Artemidos inscription of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, in which Hatshepsut expresses a special bond with her, calling her nehbet-ka-i, ‘bestower of my position’, “who said: ‘Hers [i.e., Hatshepsut’s] is heaven and earth!” (Goedicke, 63). This epithet links Nehmetaway conceptually with Nehebkau.
Boylan, P. 1922. Thoth: The Hermes of Egypt. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press (pp. 208-209).
Depauw, M., and M. Smith. 2004. “Visions of Ecstasy. Cultic Revelry before the goddess Ai/Nehemanit. Ostraca Faculteit Letteren (K.U. Leuven) dem. 1-2.” Pp. 67-93 in: Hoffmann, F. & H. Thissen (ed.), Res Severa Verum Gaudium. Festschrift für Karl-Theodor Zauzich zum 65. Geburtstag am 8. Juni 2004. Leuven: Peeters.
Goedicke, H. 2004. The Speos Artemidos Inscription of Hatshepsut and Related Discussions. Oakeville, CT: HALGO.
Jørgensen, J. K. B. 2014. Egyptian Mythological Manuals: Mythological structures and interpretative techniques in the Tebtunis Mythological manual, the manual of the Delta and related texts. Københavns Universitet, Det Humanistiske Fakultet.
Lefebvre, G. 1921. “Textes du tombeau de Petosiris.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Egypte 21: 222-246.
Lichtheim, M. 1980. Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume III: The Late Period. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press.
Parlebas, J. 1984. Die Göttin Nehmet-awaj. Kehl: Universität Tübingen.
Snape, S. R. 1989. A Temple of Domitian at El-Ashmunein. London: British Museum.
Zivie, A.-P. 1983. Hermopolis et le nome de l’Ibis, recherches sur la province du dieu Thot en Basse Egypte. Cairo: IFAO.