The Mysterious Afikoman in the Haggadah

Jewish Matzah on Decorated Silver wine cup with matzah, Jewish symbols for the Passover Pesach holiday. Passover concept.
photovs / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Neil Altman

The Jewish Post & Opinion on April 12, 2000, published a very intriguing book review on “Passover and Easter: Two Liturgical Traditions” by Joseph Gutmann. It revealed an important finding about the mysterious word “Afikoman,” which is the only Greek word that appears in our Hebrew Haggadah (Passover service guide). How did it get there, and what does it mean?

Scholars, such as Professors Lawrence Hoffman, Joseph Tabory and Israeli Professor Israel Yuval, reveal some disturbing findings about the anomaly in the Haggadah, in particular Yuval’s revelation of “Afikoman.”

Yuval explains the ritual of the Afikoman — the middle matzah that is broken and strangely hidden for the children at the seder to find. We have always been told that the hidden Afikoman means “dessert,” but according to rabbinic authorities, scholars and experts like Yuval, it means something entirely different, even something perhaps shocking: It unravels the interconnections between our Passover traditions and Easter.

Yuval connects the Afikoman with the Passover lamb that, in ancient times, was sacrificed on the first night of Passover. He writes, “After eating the Afikoman, eating other food is forbidden. Just as this mitzvah represents redemption in time to come, so it functions also as a remembrance of the paschal lamb that was once eaten …”

The authoritative rabbinic text on Passover, the Shulchen Aruch in chapter 473.35,  clearly, without question, makes this direct connection of the Afikoman with the sacrificed Passover lamb. “The Afikoman is an important mitzvah because it takes its place of the Peach sacrifice.”

Professor Joseph Tabory saw this direct connection as well, citing Rashi, the great rabbinical scholar in the eleventh century AD. Rashi wrote, “The most important matsah is the last piece [i.e. the Afikoman] … in memory of the flesh of the pascal lamb, which is eaten at the end of the meal.”

In the book of Exodus (chapter 12), G-d tells Moses to have the Jewish people slay a lamb for each household, without blemish, and place its blood on their doors for redemption and salvation from the angel of death, who would pass over their homes that night, killing the first-born males of Egypt.

Yuval goes behind the narrative veil and, like other scholars, sees that the symbolism here is messianic. His provocative insights connect the slaying of the Passover lamb with the mysterious Greek word “Afikoman” as a reference to the Messiah. In fact, Hoffman cites British scholar David Daube, “who identified the Passover seder as a messianic meal.”

Yuval also sees the Afikoman in the context of a messianic meal, when Jesus at his last seder asked to be remembered by the broken matzah (the Afikoman). Yuval cites the New Testament symbolism to remember the sacrificial death of the Messiah “until he comes.”  i.e. second coming (1 Corinthians 11:26 ); and Yuval goes on to state that it is “precisely the meaning of the concept of Afikoman … from Aphikomenos, “‘the coming one.’” On the other hand, Greek scholar Professor Elodie Emig of Denver Theological Seminary in a March 2023 e-mail, states, “Aphikomenos means ‘he who has come.”

Also, importantly, The Analytical Greek Lexicon cites “Afikoman” to mean “I have come”/ “I came.”

Thus, we know that “Afikoman” does not mean “dessert” but refers to the Passover lamb and symbolically has Messianic meaning — whether it means in the past tense in Greek, “I have come” or, as Yuval views it, “the coming one.” Perhaps both are correct!

Neil Altman is an investigative journalist who writes on religion and the Dead Sea Scrolls. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, London Times, Toronto Star and Jewish newspapers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here