"Old Salts" in Jonah 1.5

In most English translations of the Bible, one of the words in Jonah 1.5 is usually translated as “sailors” or “mariners” (NRSV, ESV, NJPS, NASB, and others).  I can remember discussing this in my very first Biblical Hebrew class under Charles Isbell at Lousiana State University.  He uses the Book of Jonah (minus the poetry in chapter 2) to introduce the language inductively.  I remember him noting that the word translated “sailors” actually comes from the Hebrew word “salt.”  So, his proposed translation was something like “Then the old salts were afraid…”  I think this is an absolutely fabulous translation, but I’m not sure the idiom is well known enough for it to make it into English translations.  It is just a shame that many modern English translations miss these types of opportunities when they are available in favor of a generic (boring?) rendering.


  • A Filipino translation (Tagalog Ang Biblia) rendered it as “taong dagat” which literally means “sea people”.

    • Not sure how well that would work in English due to the technical use of the term “the sea people.” Might cause a bit of confusion.