Rock Art Afterlife Sun Journey

The Sun Journey Rock Art

The sun’s journey myth as depicted in Negev Desert rock art has its roots in ancient Egypt. The myth portrays the sun’s daily travel from east to west, followed by its descent into the underworld at night. The sun was considered to be a god, personified in Egypt as Ra, who embarked on a daily journey from east to west and then proceeded through the underworld at night. The nighttime journey through the underworld was believed to be the most perilous part of the sun’s journey. The sun admiration in Egypt is articulated in the Book of the Dead, translated by Sir Peter le Page Renouf :

'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 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'.

'With Ra as our guide, we traverse the treacherous path of the underworld. The serpent Apophis lurks in the shadows, but Ra’s power and bravery ensure our safe passage. At dawn, we emerge from the underworld, victorious over the darkness, ready to embark on a new journey through the sky'.

Fig.1   On left, Ra the Egyptian sun god leads the ship, day and night. The left ship carries the sun, and the right boat 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

The rock art in Fig.2 showcases a depiction of two upside-down ships, a night ship, and a day ship, The Book of the Dead descibes the meaning of boat pair: Chapter 151: 'Your right eye is the night lightning of the sun boat; your left eye is the daily lightning of the sun boat' symbolizing a journey through the underworld. The wiggling snake, which is seen interfering with the sun’s journey, is a significant aspect of the myth. The snake attacks the large ship that carries the sun while simultaneously towing the small ship in their passage through the underworld.

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

Both the sun carriers and their enemy, the snake, cooperate despite their opposing roles. The sun, the cross, symbolizes the upper world and resurrection, while the snake symbolizes the underworld and death. The opposing forces unite when their goal is to maintain nature’s law, demonstrating the unity of nature. Thus, supporting the theory that the world’s order is maintained by a balance of forces that preserve the world’s cyclical rhythm.


The sun’s journey through the sky has been a central theme in Egyptian mythology for thousands of years. The daily journey from east to west and its nighttime journey through the underworld was a dangerous and important part of the sun’s cycle. Rock art in the Negev Desert showcases this mythology, depicting two ships symbolizing the journey through the underworld.

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.


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

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Yehuda Rotblum