Herod has become a stereotype on the basis of the brief account of his attempted murder of the infant Jesus -- and his ruthless murder of Israel's first born in the process. But more is known and Mr. Gross- long fascinated by the period and the topic- has written an exhaustive history of Herod's long reign in Judea. He was the tyrannical ruler of legend, but he was also an able administrator, and on the whole a just ruler. He became king of the Jews through the good offices of the Roman Empire, and was therefore hated by his subjects, although he was, nominally at least, a Jew and married to the daughter of the high priest. For real -- and for fancied- reasons he killed a succession of relatives, including the wife he loved and the sons he suspected. In times of peace, Herod constructed magnificent cities, even rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. But in spite of these deeds, he died unmourned. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the swift summary of the background of Jewish history- and, when Herod emerges on the scene the recreation of the feel of the Near East. The inherent drama of his life, however, is made tedious by an embarrassment of detail. No battle is left unrecorded, no assassination bypassed- or so it seems. One regrets too the inclusion of incongruous modern colloquialisms, and the overblown imaginary descriptions. The problem of placing the appeal is that the book falls between two stools, neither scholarly enough for the Biblical scholar nor lively enough for the reader who wants his history fictionalized.