After studying philology at the Erfurt academy and at Leiden, he travelled in order to increase his linguistic knowledge. While searching in Rome for some documents at the request of the Swedish Court (1649), he became friends with Abba Gorgoryos, a monk from the Ethiopian province of Amhara, and acquired from him an intimate knowledge of the Ethiopian language.
In 1652 he entered the service of the duke of Saxe-Gotha, in which he continued until 1678, when he retired to Frankfurt am Main. In 1683 he visited England to promote a cherished scheme for establishing trade with Ethiopia, but his efforts were unsuccessful, chiefly due to the resistance of the authorities of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Returning to Frankfurt in 1684, he devoted himself wholly to literary work, which he continued almost to his death. In 1690 he was appointed president of the Collegium Imperiale Historicum.
Ludolf died at Frankfurt.
The works of Ludolf, who is said to have been acquainted with twenty-five languages, include Sciagraphia historiae aethiopicae (Jena, 1676); and the Historia aethiopica (Frankfort, 1681), which has been translated into English, French and Dutch, and which was supplemented by a Commentarius (1691) and by Appendices (1693-1694). According to Ullendorff, Ludolf's
- Ethiopic and Amharic dictionaries and grammars were of importance far transcending his own time and remained, for well over a century and a half, the indispensable tools for the study of these languages, while his monumental history of Ethiopia (with an extensive commentary) can still be read with profit as well as enjoyment.
Among his other works are:
- Grammatica linguae amharicae (Frankfort, 1698)
- Lexicon amharico-latinum (Frankfort, 1698)
- Lexicon aethiopico-latinum (Frankfort, 1699)
- Grammatica aethiopica (London, 1661, and Frankfort, 1702)
- His posthumously published Allgemeine Schau-Bühne der Welt (1713 in Frankfurt am Main) is noted for the detailed account given of 1652 Batih massacre, a mass execution of Polish captives by Ukrainian Cossacks.
- Edward Ullendorff, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, second edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 9.
- Jobi Ludolfi et Godofredi Guilelmi Leibnitii Commercium Epistolicum, Göttingen, 1755
- Ullendorff, p. 11
- Christian Juncker, Commentarius de vita et scriptis Jobi Ludolfi (Frankfort, 1710)
- Ludwig Diestel, Geschichte des alten Testaments in der christlichen Kirche (Jena, 1868)
- Johannes Flemming, "Hiob Ludolf," in the Beiträge zur Assyriologie (Leipzig, 1890-1891)
- Jürgen Tubach (1993). "Hiob Ludolf". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 5. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 317–325. ISBN 3-88309-043-3.
- John T. Waterman (1978), Leibniz and Ludolf on Things Linguistic: Excerpts from Their Correspondence (1688-1703). translated and edited with commentary and notes. Berkeley: University of California Publications in Linguistics 88.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Works by or about Hiob Ludolf at Internet Archive
- Hiob Ludolf at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
- Pictures from a supplementary volume to Ludolf's Historia Aethiopica in Early Printed Books at St. John's College Library website.
- Psalterium Davidis aethiopice et latine at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML).
- Hiob Ludolf in die Erfurt-Enzyklopädie website.
- Nouvelle histoire d'Abyssinie ou d'Ethiopie tirée de l'histoire latine—a French translation of Ludolf's Historia aethiopica (Paris 1684) in Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (PDF).
- A new history of Ethiopia being a full and accurate description of the kingdom of Abessinia, vulgarly, though erroneously, called the Empire of Prester John by the learned Job Ludolphus, translated out of his learned manuscript commentary on this history (1684) available on Early English Books Online