Beginning in 1848 the California Gold Rush attracted droves of fortune-hunters. Among the wild west boom- towns, Bodie garnered an especially violent reputation for its saloon brawls, stagecoach robberies, and weekly shootouts. Local miners financed dozens of saloons, opium dens, gambling halls, and brothels. According to the town’s Methodist minister, Bodie was a "sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion." While 34 million in gold was extracted from the mines, the yellow metal dropped to a trickle by the 1880s forcing thousands to vacate, leaving most of their possessions due to the remoteness of the town. Later, in 1932, many of the weather-beaten buildings burned to the ground in a devastating fire. Spending over 1000 hours on this ambitious painting, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Bodie and the Mesopotamian city of Babylon. The Greek historian Herodotus described Babylon as “gold-abounding” (i) and biblically-speaking it was the world centre of idol worship. Spotted hyenas reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, so it’s logical to wonder why a pack of thirteen hyenas are roaming through a western town! Hyenas are carrion scavengers, able to break down bone with their strong teeth and jaws, extracting as much marrow nutrient as possible. Traditionally, the hyena has been a symbol for the unstable or sinister, and in some African cultures it is viewed as a grave robber. The Lion King’s hyena trio: Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed, entrenched character traits of savagery and cowardice in pop culture. For me, the concept of hyenas inhabiting an immoral western town came from Isaiah’s prophecy of judgment concerning Babylon, stating that desert creatures such as hyenas would one day inhabit its strongholds, a symbolic picture of how Babylon, the world’s greatest city, would be laid to waste by the Persian Empire (ii). Telescoping, a concept common in prophecies, explains how there can be fulfillment far beyond the audience that the prophet originally addressed. In the 1st century, New Testament authors spoke of Rome as being another “Babylon.” While the Western frontier was seen as a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ in the end it accidentally became an occidental (western) Babylon, where the god of gold corrupted, unable to save the miners from their troubles (iii).
(i) Persians of Aschylus (ii) Isaiah 13:19-22 (iii) Isaiah 46:6-7