Sun Journey Rock Art
The Sun Journey Rock Art
Deciphering rock art from Israel, israelrockart.com.
The sun journey rock art and myth originated in ancient Egypt. The myth describes the sun’s daily journey in the heavens from east to west and its disappearance in the underworld at night. The myth focuses on the sun’s night journey through the underworld, which is considered to be the most dangerous part of the journey. A translation of the Book of the Dead by Sir Peter le Page Renouf captured the Egyptian veneration of the sun:
“I look at the sunrise and sunset, the daily return of the day and night, the struggle between light and darkness, with all the drama of the sun every detail, every day, every month, every year, in heaven and on earth the sun is the main theme of Egyptian mythology.”
The Egyptian Sun Journey Myth
According to the myth, the Egyptian Sun god Ra sails the skies during the day and returns through the underworld to begin his cyclical journey at dawn. His passage through the underworld represents a victory over darkness by defeating the hidden dangers he encounters, especially Apophis the serpent. The following passage, from the Book of the Dead, described the sun’s journey:
“As the sun swept from west to east after nightfall, it passed in the kingdom of death until it caught by the snake Apophis. The snake was the source of chaos and the enemy of the sun god. The sun passes over the serpent back in an attempt to defeat it, whether it is in the depths of the realm of death or the eastern horizon.”
In rock art scenes, the ship engraved in pairs symbolizes, a night ship, and a day ship; as described in the Book of the Dead Chapter 151: “Your right eye is the night lightning of the sun boat; your left eye is the daily lightning of the sun boat”
Ship Rock Art, Negev Desert
The rock art in Fig.3 depicts two flipped ships, which represent a journey through the underworld. The ships are bound together by a snake, colored red, which unites and holds them together. The snake attacks the ship carrying the sun, the cross on the big ship, and pulls the smaller ship along at the same time. In this mission, they are one unit, the sun carriers, and their enemies. It represents the good and evil characters in pursuit of different objectives, but at the same time, they are combining forces to make the journey successful. Such thought fits the old logical theory that the world order is kept by a balance of forces that sustains cyclical order. The rock art scene is decorated with random dots, probably stars with the moon above in the center, indicating a night-time journey.
The Ship and Heavenly Gates
An interesting rock art ties the sun’s journey to the Heavenly Gates myth, a Sumerian concept, which assumes that there are gates in heaven serving as entry/exit for celestial objects such as the sun, moon, and other stars. The gates are in the shape of feet. Fig.4 describes the sun’s daily journey from sunrise to sunset which complements the night journey. The sun was transported by boat through the sky during the day, which was considered, in ancient times, as the upper ocean.
Fig.4. Sun’s journey and the Heavenly Gates, Negev Rock Art. (photo R. Yahel)
The boat on the left image rises from the big gate connected by a line to the sun, the upper circle. The sun then descends, connected by a line, into a smaller gate, or the sunset gate, on the right. In the right image, the twinship emerges from the upper gate full of sun rays as indicated by the thick line across the gate. It’s then descending to the left, on the side panel, toward the empty sunset gate at the bottom.
The Negev nomads borrowed the sun journey idea from the “world” and invented their unique ship as illustrated in many rock art. The sun myth endurance proves its longevity that continues even today. The examples presented here demonstrate the universality of the sun journey idea.
LANKESTER, D. (2012) Predynastic & Pharaonic era Rock-Art in Egypt’s Central Eastern Desert.
KRISTIANSEN, K. (2010). The sun journey in Indo-European mythology and Bronze Age rock art.
Kaul, F. (1998) A study in Bronze Age religion and iconography.
Lahelma, A. (2017) The Circumpolar Context of the ‘Sun Ship’ Motif in South Scandinavian Rock Art
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