This post will treat another error in the Doctrine and Covenants: The exposition on the book of Revelation found in D&C 77.
Say the Joseph Smith Papers Project for this text, "[Sydney] Rigdon probably served as the original scribe for the explanation, but Jesse Gause could have been the scribe instead. The earliest surviving copy is an undated one made by John Whitmer in Revelation Book 1, where it is identified only as 'Revelation Explained.'" There is no known original copy. Of Revelation Book 1, the JSPP says, "Revelation Book 1 contains the earliest known copies of many revelations and, in some cases, the only surviving early manuscript copy." Many of "the revelations and other items are out of chronological order. Manuscript pages 128–148 contain fourteen items dated December 1831–April 1832 that were copied into the manuscript book after April 1832. The manuscript source of these revelations and other items is unknown, but JS and other church leaders possibly brought them to Missouri in April 1832. While these fourteen items are out of order chronologically, Whitmer copied more of them into Revelation Book 1 than other scribes copied into Revelation Book 2, which was begun in late February or early March 1832 and kept by JS and his scribes at church headquarters in Ohio."
Revelation Book 1 was highly edited. JSPP says:
"Many redactions were made before selected items were published in Missouri, while others were made in Ohio before the 1835 publication of the Doctrine and Covenants. Changes made in Sidney Rigdon’s hand are among the earliest, and evidence indicates that he made them in Ohio before the book went to Missouri in November 1831....John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery could have made redactions in either Ohio or Missouri as early as 1831 or as late as 1835, though the majority of redactions they made first appear in print in 1833 or earlier. Whitmer’s marks often reversed changes made by Sidney Rigdon, and his later editing also modified some of the wording in the revelations. Though not as frequent, changes in Cowdery’s hand were often more substantive in nature, clarifying and expanding the meaning of several items in preparation for the publication of the Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. William W. Phelps had neither reason nor opportunity to edit the items in Revelation Book 1 until he and his associates began preparing the texts for publication in Missouri. As printer of The Evening and the Morning Star and the Book of Commandments, Phelps provided much of the punctuation and versification and many of the other copyediting changes. Only rarely did he alter the original language."
With that historical background, the text of D&C 77 consists of several questions asked about the Book of Revelation (not Revelation Book 1, but rather the last book in the Bible). Historically speaking, if other doctored LDS documents are to be taken as precedent, it is very unlikely that the entire section as printed came from Joseph Smith, but also very unlikely that the entire section was fabricated. Instead, the most likely modifications were to themes, passages, or individual words.
This passage is highly suspect:
"6 Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?Why? Because if this passage were true, it would mean that those events associated with the 1st-6th seals must already have transpired. While sufficient effort could successfully pin some items, such as the four horsemen, on past events, it does not seem that any of the many commentators have been able to find plausible subjects that have garnered as much attention from history as they do in John's revelation. In other words, though candidates for some of the items pertaining to seals 1-6 exist, they certainly are not prominent enough to be the singular feature used to describe each period. For example, in seal 2 there goes forth "another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword." Was peace somehow more abundant in the first 1000 years of the earth than the 2nd thousand years? What event heralded the change?
A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.
7 Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?
A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh." (D&C 77:6-7.)
Other events simply have not yet occurred, no matter how hard we try to shoehorn them into past events. For example, during the 6th seal we read: "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Revelation 12:17.)
But all of this is merely speculation, right? Not exactly.
It turns out we do have teachings from Joseph Smith on the Book of Revelation outside of D&C 77. This comes from "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith":
What is the source for this teaching? It comes from William Clayton's first hand contemporary record found in Words of Joseph Smith 8 April 1843. It is also found (a briefer version) in Joseph Smith's diary of the same date kept (at that time) by Willard Richards.There is a grand difference and distinction between the visions and figures spoken of by the ancient prophets, and those spoken of in the revelations of John. The things which John saw had no allusion to the scenes of the days of Adam, Enoch, Abraham or Jesus, only so far as is plainly represented by John, and clearly set forth by him. John saw that only which was lying in futurity and which was shortly subject: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John: who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of his prophecy and keep those things that are written therein: for the time is at hand." Also Rev. 4:1. "After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven; and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter."....Now, I make this declaration, that those things which John saw in heaven had no allusion to anything that had been on the earth previous to that time, because they were the representation of "things which must shortly come to pass," and not of what has already transpired. John saw beasts that had to do with things on the earth, but not in past ages. The beasts which John saw had to devour the inhabitants of the earth in days to come. ....The revelations do not give us to understand anything of the past in relation to the ￼kingdom of God. What John saw and speaks of were things which he saw in heaven; those ￼which Daniel saw were on and pertaining to the earth.
So, given the proven alterations in Revelation Book 1 that filtered into D&C, and given a solid source for the above passage, we are forced to decide: Did Joseph Smith teach that each seal corresponded to 1000 years of the earth's existence, or did John's revelation consist only of events of the future reckoned from John's time (circa AD 96)?
If he taught one but not the other, certainly the TPJS passage is more reliable. If he taught both, certainly the TPJS passage, which came around ten years after D&C 77, would reflect his more developed understanding.