You’re actually asking THREE questions here. So I’ll break up my answer.
1. What is the difference between the Xian Old Testament and the Jewish Bible/Tanakh?
So, for clarity’s sake I don’t use “Torah” to refer to the entire Jewish Bible (though some people do in a general sense). Technically the Torah is the five books given to Moses, and is only part of the Tanakh, an acronym which stands for teachings (Torah), prophets (Neviim), and writings (Ketuvim). In Hebrew the letter K becomes a kh when its inside or at the end of a word, and acronyms get filled our with the vowel “ah” for easy pronunciation.
So, Tanakh = the entire Hebrew Bible, and that is what Xians use as their “Old Testament.” In the OT, Xians changed the book order and groupings, and they also translate things… questionably, because Xian OTs usually are NOT an accurate translation of the Hebrew, they’re a synthesis of the Hebrew with Greek, Latin, and even German translations over the years, NONE of which were particularly accurate to begin with.
If you ever want a readable, scholarly, fairly literal translation, you should look at Sefaria.org, where you can get a line by line translation of the entire Tanakh alongside the Hebrew. (The verses wont line up exactly with an Xian OT - chapter and verse numbers are actually an Xian idea and Jews were like “oh, we like that, but we don’t like exactly how you did it in some places” so we made our own very similar structure of verse numbers.)
The BIGGEST difference between the Tanakh and the OT though is not even the text itself! Which can be a substantial difference because of the aforementioned translation issue when you give a bunch of gentiles a compilation of >1,500 year old Hebrew texts. It’s the commentary, hermeneutics, and exegesis AROUND the text.
Commentary is how we explain what’s on the page in our own language, and pass that on to the next generation (since we are all culturally removed from the formal ancient Hebrew of the Tanakh).
Hermeneutics is how we interpret texts through our values, worldview, cultural lenses. Is a text literally true? Is it morally true? Is it allegorical? Historical? What does it mean to us?
Exegesis is how we extract meaning from the text, using tools of interpretation. Exegesis is a tool of hermeneutics, usually concerned with language and literary truth.
Jewish commentary and hermeneutics around the Tanakh are INCREDIBLY different than Xian equivalents around the OT. First of all, we have the Talmud(s), which consist of the Oral Torah and centuries worth of Rabbinic argument about the Tanakh. Then we have thousands of years worth of commentary and interpretation by great Rabbis like Rashi and Rambam. For any single verse in the Tanakh, there is whole CHAPTERS worth, even a BOOKS worth, of commentary on that small verse, commentary which itself is elevated to the point of being scriptural. In the Rabbinic Jewish tradition, you CANNOT just read the literal language of the Tanakh and say “well that’s what it says.” The full depth of meaning is only captured through the process of divine commentary over time.
Interesting that you bring up brimstone, because that leads us to a GREAT example of how Xians get it wrong, frankly. Xians believe (incontrovertibly) that G-d destroyed Sodom and Gemorah for acts of homosexuality. Frankly, bullshit. The Tanakh doesn’t actually say this - it says they were consumed for doing evil. Xians assume that evil was homosexuality, but Jews do not - the Talmud and other commentary teaches us that that evil was breaking sacred hospitality culture. Basically, taking in guests and then robbing and murdering them.
2. Does Judaism have a different view, a tolerant and accepting view, of homosexuality, than Xianity typically does? How can that be true when they share the same texts?
Well, first of all, in the first section, you’ll see that we DO share some texts in common, but we don’t translate them, understand them, or interpret them the same way AT ALL. You CANNOT judge Judaism through the lens of Xianity - it honestly has nothing to do with us even though they’re (mis)using our books.
INB4 Judaism is not a monolith. Of course there have been (and are) homophobic people in positions of power in Judaism. Of course there has been a culture of homophobia in Judaism. Of course there has been oppression on the basis of sex, gender, sexuality, etc, just like in (almost) every culture.
However, in Judaism today, there are queer and trans Rabbis, and female Rabbis, even some Orthodox ones. Rabbis perform marriages for gay couples (again, even some Orthodox ones). In Liberal Judaism, queer and trans Jews are fully accepted, vibrant parts of our communities. In Orthodox Judaism, queer and trans Jews are also standing up, creating sacred space for themselves, and living observant, communal Jewish lives as their authentic selves. How can this be?
Well, for one thing, bigots aren’t usually bigoted because an ancient book told them to be. They’re going to be bigoted no matter what, and they’re going to appeal to ALL authority to back up their bigotry, including religion, but also nature, civil law, morality, culturex etc.
For another, Jews don’t always interpret verses about sexuality the same way Xians do. Many think that the ancient prohibitions arent talking about loving homosexual relationships at all, but about pedophilia, pagan prostitution, or similar. There’s literary and scholarly room to interpret them in many different ways.
Some find them to be a prohibition on male male anal sex only, but not relationships, but another Jewish law about human decency and respect prevent it from being enforced, because that would shame people. Others DO find it to be a prohibition for Male-Male sex, but another Jewish law that we are only responsible for the commandments we can be reasonably expected to fulfil means that this law doesn’t actually apply to queer people at all - homosexual relationships are therefore forbidden only for those who are NOT homosexual. Still others believe that we can’t know exactly what the verses meant, so we can’t enforce them at all, and because of human decency, we SHOULDN’T enforce them to be a ban on gay sex or relationships.
Female queer sex isn’t discussed in the Tanakh at all, actually! And even in the Talmud, Rabbis basically boil it down to “well, it’s fine I guess, but it’s not ideal because then they arent as interested in their husbands.”
Many Jewish people find examples of queer orientations and diverse gender identities in the Tanakh itself, which you would never get reading the English. For example, Noah uses female pronouns for the second half of life. Rebecca is sometimes called by male pronouns. G-d themself occasionally uses female language, and in Judaism, there are male, female, and neutral aspects of the Divine. Stories like Ruth and Naomi or David and Jonathan are often read as queer love stories, or at least archetypes. The Talmud even recognizes that sex and gender are not binary, discussing six different identities (based on outward sex characteristics, BUT not just those assigned at birth, surgical changes are also considered).
Basically, there IS room for queer sex, relationships, and transgender and nonbinary gender identities in Judaism, that are fully consistent with an observant religious life in an observant community. Socially, that hasn’t always been a reality for queer and trans people, but more and more, it IS.
Liberal Jews in the US make up between 59-89% of Jews, and 51% of all Jews in the world live in the US as of 2018. Orthodox Judaism also has queer and trans affirming spaces, movements, and adherents. The majority of Judaism IS queer and trans affirming and welcoming. You can also read more about the stories of real queer and trans Jews over the past 2,000 years in A Rainbow Thread by Noam Sienna.
3. Isn’t the OT god angry and evil and vengeful, and the NT god loving and gracious and merciful?
Actually, this whole trope/idea is based on a LITERAL HERESY of Xianity from the mid 2nd century, Marcionism. Marcion, like MANY Xians of his day, was a gentile, a Roman, and very anti-Jewish/what we would now consider antisemitic. Basically, he taught that there were two DIFFERENT gods, one for the Jews and the “Old Testament” (you have noticed by now that I find this term offensive, those are derisive quotation marks) and one for Xians and the New Testament.
Marcion, frankly, is full of shit and does not paint an accurate or complete picture of the depiction of deity in EITHER religious canon - cherry picking ideas from the Tanakh to support his vengeful anger god, and cherry picking from the NT to support the idea of a merciful and loving god. He conveniently leaves out the love, mercy, faithfulness, lovingkindness, and grace attributed to G-d THROUGHOUT the Tanakh, and the anger, vengeance, and callousness of both Jesus AND “god the father” in the NT.
Frankly, its FUCKING RIDICULOUS that Xians still culturally believe this idea so strongly (even though they don’t literally believe it was two different gods, which is what makes it heresy). Its laughable: G-d is supposed to be eternal, unchanging, constantly merciful. It’s also ridiculous because the Xian NT places all its authority on being a continuation of the Jewish religion. The NT CANNOT BE TRUE unless the claims of the Tanakh are true, so, undermining the G-d of the Tanakh is a pointless endeavor for Xians.
Honestly, when one religion believes in hell, ETERNAL torture and suffering for anyone who doesn’t believe and act the way they do, and one does not, general the people who believe in hell are the ones with the vengeful angry god.
Xians love to culturally present the image that their god is loving and ours is vengeful and angry. Horse. Shit. Show me the Carfax!!!
Look at the body of Jewish history, philosophy, religious thought, oral tradition. Look at Jewish VALUES. Look at how we view charity as ESSENTIAL, how Jews now and throughout all time have valued infrastructure, mutual aid, taking care of the sick and homeless, treating each other with respect and dignity. Then compare that to the history of conquests, forced conversions, violance, rape, and genocide committed by Xians, and you come back and tell me who has a loving G-d and who has a vengeful one.