This series constitutes a leisurely stroll through the halls of Doctrine and Covenants section 77. I don’t have any particular schedule in mind, future posts will appear as seemeth me good.
One of my favorite sections of the Doctrine and Covenants is 77. It is a favorite because it is a fruitful field for the discussion of the meaning, methods, and interpretation of Joseph Smith’s revelations in particular and to some degree, revelation in general.
Like a number of early revelations, it is in question-answer format. This in itself is pretty common for the Doctrine and Covenants, as most of the revelations arose in some context where information or confirmation was sought. In the case of the overt question-response revelations, like proto-D&C 42 or D&C 77, there is one interesting question rarely answered. Namely, who asked the questions? Moreover, was it cheating? What I mean by this is, was there some already-received-text that stood as background for the answers and that naturally framed the form of the questions? We generally have far too little information about the early revelations, but the Joseph Smith Papers has brought us much in the way of context for them.
Doctrine and Covenants 77 was put to paper in March of 1832. This places it toward the end of the revelation riches of the restoration. By that I mean, toward the end of the high-frequency delivery period. After this time, the frequency is drifting lower and in its place are the ad hoc high priest councils. Indeed, a number of later revelations appear to be formal statements of council conclusions or perhaps enhanced confirmations of same.
But back to the subject. What is D&C 77 besides a question-answer statement? Here are some answers that lead to more questions, some of which I hope to address in the future.
1. D&C 77 provides statements that discuss certain aspects of the book of Revelation. Surely the most esoteric text in the New Testament, it was an endless source of controversy and flights of fancy among Protestants in America and the Atlantic World in general. Other Christians faired the same on its rough seas of hermeneutic. One of the things I hope to do is see some kind of interpretive framework for the revelation on Revelation.
2. D&C 77 was a deeply influential text in Joseph Smith’s life. As I have edited Joseph’s sermons for a book project, I’ve noticed time and again that the themes of D&C 77 reappear in sometimes subtle ways in those sermons. Indeed, they construct much of the background cosmology through which Joseph saw the world. In saying this, I think it’s important to realize that the revelations Joseph received were not exactly committed to memory by him. However, the themes of those revelations often resurface in other contexts, that may in fact be independent confirming revelations. That’s my take anyway. Joseph responded to his environment in maturing ways but that environment often repeated the same assaults on his sense of world-pschye, if you will. He was a demonstration of the New Testament promise of bringing things to remembrance.
3. D&C 77 was a secret text. There are a number of revelations that were not published during Joseph’s lifetime, and D&C 77 was one of these. It was not the equal of D&C 110 in terms of hiddenness, but like it, it only makes its appearance in oral sermon texts without source reference. It never seems to be mentioned by Joseph’s probable partner in the endeavor, Sidney Rigdon.
Next: a comparative textual analysis that continues for a bunch of parts.
 I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but an early text of the revelation reveals that it was purposely excluded from early imprint attempts such as the Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.