Sun Journey Rock Art

Rock Art Ships Negev Desert

Sun Journey Negev Desert Rock Art, Israel

Copyright © 2017 by Yehuda Rotblum

Egypt’s proximity to Israel contributed much to the area beliefs, it played a major role in Israel pre-history. For example, the Sun Journey myth a central Egyptian belief appears also in Israel. This solar myth explains the sun’s daily travel across the sky from east to west and its disappearance at night. Such stories often take the form of a journey, with the sun deity crossing the heavens in a chariot or boat. In many myths, monsters or evil spirits want to steal or devour the sun especially on its journey through the underworld at night.

The Egyptian Sun Journey Myth

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.”

According to the myth Ra, the Egyptian Sun god 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.

sun journey egyptian ship

Fig.1. On left, Ra the Egyptian sun god leads the ship, day and night. The left ship with the big circle, the sun, and the right boat without the sun is riding toward the sky full of stars. On the right, Apophis the coiled snake attacks Pharoh ship sailing at night in the underworld.

Ship Rock Art, Negev Desert

Fig3 shows two flipped ships bounded together by a snake, colored red. The snake attacks the ship that carries the sun, a parallel to the Egyptian myth, 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 bad and the good characters in this scene are of opposite forces and at the same time, they combine their actions to complete the journey. The scene is decorated with random dots, probably stars with the moon above in the center, indicating a night time journey.

rock art ship afterlife journey

Fig.2. The twinship Negev Desert Rock Art with a snake. ( photo R. Yahel)

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 full sun’s journey from sunrise to sunset. In the left image the boat on the left, rising 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 indicated by the thick center line across the gate. It’s then descending to the left, on the side panel, toward the empty sunset gate at the bottom.

sun journey ship rock art

Fig.4. Sun’s journey and the Heavenly Gates, Negev Rock Art. (photo R. Yahel)


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.  Interpretation, Durham theses, Durham University.
KRISTIANSEN, K. (2010). Rock Art and Religion. The sun journey in Indo-European mythology and Bronze Age rock art.
Kaul, F. 1998. A study in Bronze Age religion and iconography. Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark.


More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.

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