Sun Journey Rock Art
The Sun Journey Rock Art
The sun journey rock art and myth in the Negev Desert 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, the most vulnerable section while passing through the underworld fighting the darkness beasts, and the final victory celebration with a renewed appearance at sunrise. 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 sky during the day and returns the next morning through the underworld to begin his cyclical journey. 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 is a sun’s journey description from the Book of the Dead: “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 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 in the eastern horizon.”
The sun myth takes the form of a journey, with the sun deity, RA, crossing the heavens in a ship fighting and defeating the monsters and evil spirits who want to devour the sun at its underworld journey, at night. In rock art scenes, the ship engraved in pairs symbolizing, a night ship, and a day ship; as stated 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 engravings, see Desert Ships, signifying a journey in the underworld. The ship is bounded by a snake, colored red, that connects the two ships. The snake attacks the ship that carries the sun and at the same time, the snake pulls the smaller ship in their underworld journey. In this mission, they are one unit, the sun carriers, and its enemies. The evil and the good characters are of opposite intentions and at the same time, they combine their actions to complete the journey. Such thought fits the old logic that assumes that the order in the world achieved through a balance of forces that maintains the cyclical order. The 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, the entry/exit gate for the heavenly objects, sun, moon, and other stars. Fig.4 describes the sun’s day journey from sunrise to sunset that complements the night journey. The sun carried by boat through the skies that were considered, in ancient times, made of water. 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, to 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 own unique ship as illustrated in many rock art. The sun myth endurance proves its longevity that continues even today. The examples presented here supported by many Rock Art that demonstrate the sun journey universal 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 inSouth Scandinavian Rock Art
More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.
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