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In Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 12, Fasc. 4 (Oct., 1962), pp. 500-501 Reuven Yaron's claims כעת חיה in Genesis 18:10, 14; 2 Kings 4:16, 17 means "at this time, next year" and this seems to check out when consulting the modern versions. He also claims that the Akkadian expression "to life" ana balat is used in the sense of "next year". Yaron then suggests that this could hold true for Hebrew with לחי which we see in 1 Samuel 25:6.

Many English versions get a little slippery with their treatment of כה לחי. Some translate it as "that liveth"(KJV, ASV) or as wishes for "long life"(Darby, HCSB, Lexham, NASB, NIV). RSV, ESV, NRSV seem to treat it as modifying ואמרתם to a greeting or salute. NABRE changes לחי to לאחי (my brother). NJPS translates it simply "[Say] as follows: To life!..." So this is a phrase that there has been significantly different attempts to translate.

The New English Bible (and REB), "All good wishes for the year ahead!" Robert Alter's "The David Story" Renders it "Thus may it be this time next year..." These two renderings follow Yaron's line of thought.

In Holladay's Concise HALOT, the 2nd listed definition for כה is - "2. temporal, now: ad-koh until now Ex 7:16, wead koh meanwhile 1K 18:45;..."

If Yaron, NEB, REB, and Alter are right that לחי is temporal, could כה לחי mean something like "now to next year"?

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To take OP's main question in two stages, starting with the latter:

[OP] ... could כה לחי mean something like "now to next year"?

No, I don't think so. The main reason for this is already implicit in the information provided. For kōh to take on a temporal flavour, it really needs the help of ʿad to provide that nuance. Both HALOT and BDB (sub 3) list the same three texts (Ex 7:16; Josh 17:14; 1 Kgs 18:45) as the only three texts in the Hebrew Bible to bear this meaning "up to here", i.e. "until now". (The only other ʿad-kōh text is clearly locative = Gen 22:5.)

Otherwise, kōh is either locative, or adverbial "thus", as I believe it is here.

[OP] If Yaron, NEB, REB, and Alter are right that לחי is temporal,...

I'm not sure that Yaron is correct here. As OP notes, he took an entry in Wolfram von Soden's Akkadisches Handwörterbuch as confirmation that Akkadian ana balaṭ with the sense "next year" confirmed this meaning for the odd לחי in 1 Sam 25:6.

The bit of AHw cited by Yaron came out in 1959. At the same time, the much larger Chicago Assyrian Dictionary project was under way, but appeared much more slowly. The "B" volume appeared three years after Yaron's article. Its lengthy bālaṭu entry does indeed include a section heading (3, pp. 51-52) glossed as "coming year", with a number of examples in context. Clearly, the ana balaṭ idiom which so impressed Yaron is just one of several locutions which bears this sense. It isn't so formulaic as he implied.

Meanwhile, there are other entries with similar wording which are much closer to the 1 Sam 25:6 sense, that is, of greeting and well-wishing: see 1(c)2', where bālaṭu appears "in votive inscriptions and in blessings". There one has the example of a case with the wishing of life + shalom, just as in the Samuel text:

ana ba-la-ṭi-šú šālam ālišu for his well-being and the preservation of his city [KAH 2 97:4 (Shalm. III)]

It seems to me that Yaron's enthusiasm for the temporal "next year" is misplaced, and the parallel that he cites in his brief note is not as compelling as he supposed.

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  • Thank you Dɑvïd for checking the Assyrian dictionaries. Your answer makes good sense. A greeting makes much more sense contextually
    – Dan S.
    Oct 9 '16 at 22:52

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