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 vulnerable part of the journey. Sir Peter le Page Renouf translated the Book of the Dead encapsulated the sun veneration in Egypt. “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 again in the morning In traveling across the sky, Ra brings light to the earth, sustaining all life on earth. His passage through the underworld represents a victory over the darkness as he fights the hidden dangers especially Apophis the coiled snake. 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
Fig3 shows a rock art with two flipped ships, see Desert Ships, engravings signifying a journey through the underworld. The ships are bounded by a snake, colored red, that unites and holds the two ships together. The snake attacks the ship that carries the sun, the cross in the big ship, and at the same time pulls the smaller ship. In this mission, they are one unit, the sun carriers, and its enemies. They represent the good and the evil characters in pursue 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 order in the world is maintained by a balance of forces, that keeps the cyclical order intact. 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, sun, moon, and other stars. Fig.4 describes the sun’s daily journey from sunrise to sunset that 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. 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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